She only barely managed to hit the ball, almost collapsing to the hard gym floor, but hit it she did. Her forearms tingled with a short stab of pain as the ball bounced up again until it was just over the top of the net, and Evan smashed it onto the other side, making it hit the ground so fast and so hard that neither Murdoch nor Anna stood a chance of catching it.
“That’s it!” Oliver gasped as Alex got to her feet, bumping her hip against Evan’s in triumph. It looked stupid, but she wouldn’t miss their victory dance for the world. “I’m done for today.”
Anna stretched luxuriously, eyeing Oliver without really bothering to hide it. These two had been dancing around each other for the better part of two months. It was high time they stopped using their weekly volleyball matches as an excuse to hang out together. “Rematch the day after tomorrow?” Anna asked, adjusting her ponytail.
“Nope,” Evan grinned. “We’re going back home for our honeymoon.”
“Honeymoon?” Oliver asked incredulously. “You’ve been married for three years now at least!”
“High time, Captain, wouldn’t you say?”
Oliver huffed and moved over to the side of the gym where he reached for his water bottle. It had been three years to the day since they went to the court house in Colorado Springs to get married.
“Where are you going?” Anna dropped on the floor and started stretching. Alex caught Oliver sneak a glance at her. These two really needed to get a room.
“All over the place,” Alex rubbed her nose. They’d never gotten around to going on that trip to Germany. Evan and she had said they’d go, but his fighter crash and the injuries that accompanied it had prevented them first and then they’d just never made the time. But there never really had been time. “And we’ll only have two weeks.” Eighteen days travelling time between Earth and Pegasus really wasn’t a whole lot of time. It was barely worth it, but every member of the expedition had two weeks of mandatory leave, and they might just as well spend that time at home. There’d be plenty of time to catch up with paperwork. And they could call themselves lucky that Evan was second-in-command to Colonel Sheppard and couldn’t be away for too long, or they’d have to take the Daedalus to get to Earth as well.
“Last time I went home I thought I’d go mad on that ship,” Anna said. “I only wish they’d get that Gate Bridge ready.” It was one of the highest priorities of the expedition to find enough Stargates to build the bridge which McKay and Carter had come up with in order to speed up travel time between Pegasus and the Milky Way.
“Go out there and find another couple of unused Spacegates while we’re gone and you’ll get your wish,” Evan said, putting his radio back in his ear and freezing in place. Alex’s heart sank. He was being summoned. She could only hope it wasn’t anything serious.
He shook his head and shrugged. “Gotta go. It’ll be fine!” He kissed her cheek, grinned at the three of them, waved a goodbye and started running down the corridor. Where he was going or when he’d be back, he didn’t even say.
Alex bit her lip, hating herself for feeling jealous of whoever needed him now. It was their anniversary. They were supposed to be heading back to Earth. But of course this was important and she shouldn’t be jealous. She’d known what she signed up for the moment she started dating him eleven years ago. No, she’d known that even before then.
“Hey, want to grab some lunch?” Anna asked, but Alex shook her head.
“Not done packing. You two go ahead.” She threw her friend a meaningful look, then slipped out into the corridor to return to hers and Evans quarters. She needed a shower and pack the last few items, hoping that they’d get to go home that day.
There was no telling what had happened or what he was needed for, and she wasn’t part of his team anymore, so there really was no way for her to find out right now. She’d been reassigned to Oliver’s team a few weeks after her arrival in Pegasus by Colonel Sheppard, and it made sense really. Being on the same team as her husband all the time would only lead to complications in the long run. She was glad Weir had taken her on at all.
She’d only gone a few steps however, before Anna caught up with her. Oliver was already heading in the other direction. “What’s wrong with you?” Alex asked, switching to German, just in case. “You know he’s crazy about you, why are you following me?”
“I’ll catch up with him eventually.” They’d been colleagues at the university in Germany where Alex had taken a temporary job after meeting Evan. “Listen, can you take some letters for my family?”
Raising an eyebrow, Alex looked at her friend. “Sure. Why can’t you send them via Daedalus or send an e-mail like the rest of us?”
Anna snorted. “I don’t want the Air Force reading all my private mail, you know?”
“Yes, I do. We’ll be in Trier for a couple of days, so I can post them from there.”
“Great! And bring me some chocolate? I hate the stuff they have here.”
“You still consume massive amounts, though.”
“Stop judging me! I know you had Doctor Zelenka smuggle in jellybeans!”
Alex laughed and shook her head. “I’m not judging. Just drop the letters off at our quarters, and I’ll bring as much chocolate as I can carry.”
Two days. That’s by how much they were delayed. A group of geologists had managed to get themselves trapped in a mud-slide on the mainland and with the Daedalus on its way to Atlantis , and no beaming technology available to them, they had to organize a rescue mission. But the geologists were back on Atlantis now, and with no new catastrophe looming over their heads this very moment, they were good to go.
Alex was only carrying a duffle bag, which held some personal items and a change of clothes for the both of them for when they left Cheyenne Mountain to get to the airport. There’d be no time to go home now. They’d kept the house, but it stood empty and if Ellen and his parents hadn’t used it as an occasional vacation home, it would’ve remained that way.
Before stepping through the Gate, he took the bag off her and he was surprised at how light it was. Well, they couldn’t exactly bring souvenirs. Her steps on the way from their quarters to the Gate Room had become exceedingly lighter. A blind man could’ve seen how excited she was to return home, though she’d never admit how much she missed it. Not even to him. He knew it anyway.
The Gate Room at the SGC looked exactly like it had last time. What had he expected? It’d only been about a year. What should have changed? Harriman was there looking down at them just like he always had, the soldiers’ faces guarding the Gate had remained the same. The one thing that had changed was the uniform they were wearing. The dark grey concrete walls were as indestructible and as dull as ever. Really, nothing had changed here. Except for the man in charge.
General Landry was waiting for them at the bottom of the ramp. Evan had seen him in one of the transmissions exchanged between Atlantis and Earth, but they’d never met in person.
“Major, Doctor, welcome home.” He nodded at them as the Gate shut down behind them. The usual data transmission must be completed already.
“Sir, I wasn’t expecting you to wait for us,” Evan said, shaking the General’s hand.
“Nah, I wasn’t going to, but you dialled in just after SG-3 left, so I thought I might just as well wait. Good to see you two.”
“Thanks, General,” Alex said, sounding relieved, “May I ask-“
“The new shipment of archaeological equipment will travel back with you on the Daedalus, yes. Doctor Jackson added a few items.” Landry shook his head with a grin. “But there’ll be time for that when you’re back from your trip.”
Evan raised his brows. “Sir? Our orders were to be back here in two weeks and then go back to Atlantis on the Daedalus straight away.”
“And you will, just that the Daedalus appears to have run into some problems on their way to Atlantis and it looks she’ll need to undergo some repairs before she can ship out again.”
“How long?” That wasn’t exactly good news, yes, they desperately needed a break from daily routine on Atlantis, but he was second-in-command. He couldn’t be gone indefinitely.
“Just about a week. So, take a few extra days and return here on the eighth.”
Alex swallowed her anger. It wouldn’t be fair. It wasn’t Landry’s fault, and it wasn’t Evan’s fault and it wasn’t the fault of the geologists who got themselves trapped. But that slow, burning sensation in the pit of her stomach remained. They’d lost two days and now they had to hurry to catch their plane from Denver to San Francisco, their first stop. Despite the Daedalus’ delay, they still needed to be back in Colorado Springs and resume work, after having lost two days. She took a deep breath. She wasn’t being fair, she told herself. She was being a brat. A thirty-five year old brat.
She didn’t turn the rental car towards the highway. She barely paid attention to the familiar houses or the streets as she drove. Getting back behind the steering wheel should have felt stranger after about a year, but it was alright. The first few kilometres she’d had to pay extra attention, but she’d learned to appreciate automatic cars long ago.
Evan didn’t say a thing as they drove past their house. They wouldn’t have the time to stop there. He just reached over and touched her knee, his thumb gently tracing the side of her leg. “Slow down, hm?”
Letting out a long-held breath, she eased up on the gas. He was right. No use getting a ticket or dying just because she couldn’t wait to go to the graveyard. Her heart was so heavy and beating so fast at the same time, she could barely breathe when she finally stopped the car on that long, unpaved road lined by ancient trees. All she felt was his hand on her skin. His warmth.
Giving his hand a quick squeeze, she opened the car door, stepped out and stared out over the sea of headstones, right at the one they’d come here to see. Evan was by her side, his hand in hers. Right now she needed his encouragement more than ever. Neither of them had been here in twelve whole months, and Alex couldn’t shake that feeling of guilt. Nora couldn’t feel lonely or abandoned. Not anymore. Not for a long time.
Three years ago they’d been parents. For a while. After losing, then finding their daughter. For a few months they’d had a daughter. She still couldn’t believe that it had been that long She still felt that numbness occasionally, but most days she could live as though it had never happened, and if that wasn’t something to feel guilty about, then what was? Pulling at Evan’s hand, she started towards the headstone. It was eight rows away from them, dark grey in the bright July sun. Eight rows of carefully counted steps.
It was as though nothing had changed. The dark stone, the silver star, the simple writing without the dates. And why wasn’t she sad now? Why wasn’t she bursting into tears? All of a sudden, this place felt empty, even though the flowers lying in front of the head stone showed her that somebody had been here recently, though she couldn’t say who.
Nobody on her archaeological team on Atlantis knew about Nora, or if they did, they never talked about it. Not even Anna. There were quite a few people in Atlantis, who’d been involved in the search for her. Alex hadn’t counted them, and really, it was only Doctor Beckett who talked of her occasionally. Just a brief mention, really. No personal questions and she was grateful for it.
“It’s so weird, being here,” Evan said, letting go of her hand and kneeling in front of the headstone. He cleared his throat and brushed over the top of it, as though he had to remove the dust of over a year. This grave had seen four whole seasons without them ever coming here. “It almost-“ he sighed and shook his head. Did he feel as detached as she did? Like that stone, that grave should be a slap in the face, when it just felt alien?
“I just don’t feel her here anymore,” Alex said and Evan nodded thoughtfully.
He reached into his pocket, then started pulling out the grass right underneath the headstone and started digging with his fingers until a small patch of earth was laid bare. “Don’t tell anyone, okay?”
“Don’t tell anyone what?”
Shaking his head, he sprinkled something over the soil and covered it again with a thin layer.
“What is that?”
“A plant that apparently looks like a daisy and doesn’t need a whole lot of tending to.”
Alex stared at him, at the rule-abiding Major who’d always been commended by his superior for following orders to the letter. The one with the impeccable record. “Did you just plant an alien flower on our daughter’s grave?” She laughed despite herself.
With a shrug, Evan got up again and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. The dirt-stained fingers resting on her arm. “Nobody will know, but there’ll be something from us here when we have to leave again. I snuck them out of the botany lab before we left.”
“You know you might be damning the whole eco system right now?”
Evan shrugged and grinned softly. “Not with just those few seeds.”
Fog was starting to creep into the bay. Alex knew from the few times she’d been here, that it would take only about half an hour for her to be unable to see the hills in the distance.
When they first met, Evan had told her that he was born in San Francisco. That he’d grown up there. She now knew that’d been a bit of a stretch. It took them over one and a half hours to get from the airport to where Evan’s parents and sister lived, but then again, Alex wouldn’t have known where the small town he’d actually grown up in was. She doubted the people in the nearby city even knew it existed, but that was probably why she liked it here. There weren’t a whole lot of tourists and the place was wonderfully quiet.
Evan’s father was driving, keeping quiet as usual. He only spoke if and when he found something worthwhile to say. Evan’s mother on the other hand kept chatting on continually. About neighbours. About her retirement party. About colleagues who kept bothering her about her students. And Monsieur. The dog was a constant topic and Alex liked listening to her. Her voice was calming as they drove through the slowly thickening fog.
“How is he anyway?” Evan asked, interrupting his mother during a story about how Monsieur had tried catching a crab and gotten his nose pinched.
“He’s getting old,” David said, taking Alex by surprise. “Doesn’t chase squirrels anymore.”
“David…” Molly muttered. If David spoke up to tell them, then it was bound to be serious.
“How old is he?” Alex asked. She knew Monsieur wasn’t a puppy anymore, but it had just never occurred to her that Monsieur was that old.
Evan swallowed hard. “Seventeen… so…” He kept looking out of the window, at the hills and the scenery gliding by. He must’ve believed not so see Monsieur again, but that was almost certain now. When they left to go back to Atlantis, he wouldn’t see his dog again. At least this way he’d get the chance to say a proper goodbye.
When David parked the car in front of the big house with the strange-looking sculptures in front, Alex couldn’t help but admire his patience. She loved Evan, but she wasn’t sure how much metal sculptures made by students she could’ve stood in her front yard.
“So,” Molly said, getting out of the car and helping Alex lift the duffle bag out of the trunk. She’d have to do a quick check of what they’d actually packed in the five minutes they’d been inside their house. Making time for that had been next to insane and they’d very nearly missed their flight, but going to the graveyard had been more important.
“So? It’s really not that heavy, it’s fine.”
Molly shook her head, took the bag from her and shoved it into David’s chest. “So, what’s new?”
Oh, Evan was the commander of an Ancient war ship for a whole day before it was blown to bits. We didn’t have time to repair it, so we had to send it into battle against an alien race hell-bent on sucking the life out of all of us. A couple of months before that he was taken prisoner, but we thought he was dead. I love your hydrangeas. She bit her lip and shrugged. “Not much.”
“Mom, you know we can’t talk about work.”
“Was I asking about work?”
Evan scoffed, took the duffle from his father and started towards the front door.
“You’re sure you’ll only be staying for a few days? It’s such a short time.”
Alex nodded. “I know… I’m sorry, but we also have to go to my mom’s place.” She left out the mention of their short trip. It wouldn’t be worth it rubbing it into her face. “And no, nothing’s new.” What was she supposed to say? Whatever it was, it would most likely require her to get security clearance. She and Evan spent most of their days working anyway, and work wasn’t anything they could talk about.
Monsieur was lying on the couch when they came through the door. He wasn’t even waiting for them. He wagged his tail slowly, when Evan entered the living room and only Evan saying his name could get him on his feet. It broke his heart to watch the greying dog waddle towards him and throw himself at his feet.
The fur was as thick as ever, but underneath Monsieur was thinner than Evan remembered him. He sat down on the floor, dragging the dog into his lap and slowly but surely Monsieur seemed to realize what was happening. He started breathing excitedly, especially when Alex sat down next to them. The dark brown eyes were almost completely hidden by a bluish-grey veil.
“He’s gone deaf,” Molly said behind them. The pang Evan felt wasn’t unexpected, but it still made him swallow drily.
“Sorry I left you, buddy,” he muttered, burying his nose in the brown fur, relishing the familiar scent. Mothballs. That’s what Monsieur smelled like, but he didn’t say it out loud. Both Molly and Alex would chide him for it. He’d tell Monsieur when they were alone. He couldn’t believe how quickly Monsieur had aged in such a short time. What could he have done, though?
“He missed you a lot,” Molly added, watching Alex and Evan greeting the dog with due enthusiasm. The look in her eyes made his stomach tighten. It wasn’t the first time that day he imagined coming home to visit Nora and Alex, instead of coming home with Alex to visit a grave. Other officers had family back home, wives, husbands, kids. What it must be like for them to be separated from their loved ones for as long as they were, was almost unbelievable. He knew he should call himself lucky that he had Alex with him and got to sleep next to her almost every night.
“I missed him too.”
“Ellen and Roger are coming over with the kids later. Is that okay?”
Alex stiffened, but she nodded. She avoided children and he was almost sure he’d do the same if his nephews hadn’t been in the picture. Not that Paul and Simon could possibly remember him too well. They were what, four and six? God, they should’ve thought of buying them gifts. That’s what you did as an uncle: you sent gifts or brought them.
“Sure,” Alex said and Evan was sure he was the only one who heard that she’d accepted her fate rather than embraced it. She kissed Monsieur’s nose and stood up to look at the pictures on the mantlepiece in the living room. She’d only been here maybe twice, but he was glad to have her here. To see her in the place where he’d grown up. She fit better in here than his high-school girlfriend, who must’ve been here in this very spot a thousand times. And the picture of her and Evan on the wall also looked more natural there than the picture of him with his prom date, which it had replaced.
“You had it printed out,” Alex said with a smile.
Evan clapped Monsieur’s side and came to his feet to stand beside her. The picture had been taken by Anna on one of their days off. Both Alex and Evan were in civilian attire, sitting under a big tree in the grass, smiling into the camera. A picture which could’ve been taken anywhere on Earth. It had accompanied a message they’d sent to their parents via e-mail. The flowers at their feet were the same ones he’d planted in Colorado and they both looked tired but happy. And why wouldn’t they? They’d gone to the mainland, dropped Carson off to do some fishing with the Athosians and gone for a hike. An ordinary day, if it hadn’t been for the constant threat of a Wraith attack or the fact that they’d flown there via a ten thousand year-old Ancient ship. Not that his parents needed to know any of that.
“Of course we did. I even printed out all your e-mails.”
“You know, if you don’t delete those mails, you can just keep them on your computer and not waste paper.”
“Don’t take that tone with me… are you in the mood for Chinese?”
“Sure!” Alex grinned at him, her eyes almost mischievous. She just enjoyed the fact that his mother was as pitiful a cook as she was.
Evan kissed her neck and pulled her close. His eyes travelled over the wall of pictures. His parents’ wedding, his grandparents, his and Ellen’s high school graduation, Evan in his first uniform… and then there was that picture of him, Alex and Nora. The one they’d taken a few weeks before Nora had died. Evan pressed his cheek against Alex’s while his father sat down in his chair, reaching for his newspaper.
What their life would’ve been like, had Nora not died, he couldn’t even begin to imagine. He could only have stayed in contact with Alex via e-mail. Once a week he’d have gotten messages from her and only been able to send her his reply the next week. And his daughter wouldn’t recognize him. She’d have asked when he’d be going away again… what a nightmare. Not that things were ideal as they were, but that image made his stomach lurch. Alex’s dad had died when she was twelve. He’d been a pilot and she’d barely known him. How should he have lived with that? With knowing that his daughter wouldn’t recognize him when he got back.
Alex was sitting on the staircase, watching Evan chasing Simon and Paul. How she hated feeling this jealous. That nagging feeling was easier to ignore in Atlantis, where there were no children, but watching him grab little Simon, then Paul, hoisting them up and carrying them into the living room, made her want to cry.
She’d given up on imagining him with Nora. Nora was long gone, but what would it have been like to see him hold another child? A healthy child, who hadn’t gone through hell, like their daughter had?
Ellen’s footsteps in the narrow hallway reminded her that she wasn’t alone, and she knew that Evan must have seen the look in her eyes as well. She took the glass of wine without looking at her sister in law. “Thanks.”
“Sorry to say this, but you look dreadful.”
Alex shrugged. “I’m okay.” And she was. She really was. Yes, she’d missed home terribly, but didn’t they all? Anna at least became teary-eyed every time they sat on one of the countless balconies after a long day of work. “How about you?”
Raising her eyebrows, Ellen leaned against the railing. “Good.” She nodded. The squeaky laughter from next door almost made Alex want to get up and go to their room. Dealing with children on missions was one thing. It wasn’t easy but being around Ellen and her happy family was considerably harder. She wouldn’t have thought it possible. “How are things with you and Evan?”
Before, talk like that had been easier. Before, a lot of things had been, really. “You don’t have to play matchmaker anymore, you know that, right?”
“Yep, I do. But still… you can’t talk about it? You’re sure?”
Alex shrugged. “About what exactly? Work? No, I can’t, though I can tell you that I haven’t been playing in the dirt as much as I would’ve liked.”
“Why don’t you quit then? Go, find another job at a university.”
Alex cleared her throat and shook her head. “I don’t want to be separated from Evan again,” she explained, though that wasn’t the complete truth. She had a sense that, though she wasn’t one of the incredibly talented physicists, she was still doing a good job in the Pegasus Galaxy, documenting all she could of the cultures that had been whiped out by the Wraith. “And I like what I do there.”
“Hm…” Ellen looked at her thoughtfully and took a sip of wine. “And how are things in the bedroom?”
“Ellen…” Alex’s cheeks grew hot and she quickly looked at her shoes. “He’s your brother.”
“Oh, I was there when he had his first girlfriend over, when mom and dad were off to visit our grandparents. I slept next door.”
Alex nearly choked on her wine. “Well, I don’t want to talk about it with you.” Had Ellen been literally anyone else, well maybe apart from any other member of Evan’s family, she would’ve been a little less reluctant to talk about such a sensitive topic, but not with Ellen. If he ever found out his sister had even asked about their sex-life, he would’ve killed her.
“No!” Alex jumped up. “No, it’s not, and… Ellen!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Alex hissed, gulping the rest of her wine.
“Nothing, I’m just trying to get you to talk.”
“I’m kind of surprised you want to know.”
“What do you want to know, mom?”
Alex almost choked on her own spit when she heard the voice behind her. Paul. Alex looked at him over her shoulder. The boy was the spitting image of Evan. She’d seen pictures. The roundish face, the dark hair and the striking blue eyes made her stomach tighten, but what had her worried more was that Paul might have heard what she and Ellen had been talking about.
“Her recipe for lemon cake, darling. Weren’t you playing with your uncle?”
“Yes, but he’s reading a book to Simon now and I don’t like that book. It’s just for kids.”
Ellen sighed. “You only want him to read the book you want, right?”
“So, you have to make compromises sometimes! I’m not reading you The Lion King for the billionth time, just because Uncle Evan isn’t tending to your every whim.”
Paul stomped his foot and for a moment there Alex was only certain the little boy would either start arguing or crying. By the way his lip was trembling, the latter was more likely, but after a few seconds he whirled around on his heel and sat down on the couch next to Evan, his arms crossed over his chest and eyes fixed on the coffee table. Evan didn’t seem disturbed, he just kept reading the big picture book, his youngest nephew in his lap and Monsieur on his other side.
“What I meant…” Ellen said softly, “was if you two don’t want to give it another try.”
Alex shrugged and shook her head. “No,” she said categorically, sitting down on the staircase again.
“Don’t move.” Ellen put a hand on her shoulder and hurried back to the kitchen to get the rest of the bottle. Sitting down next to Alex, she poured the rest of the dark liquid into their glasses. “You never talked about what happened. I mean, I know what happened to Nora wasn’t expected, but… what about before?”
“I-“ Alex took a deep breath, twirling the wine in her glass. “I can’t tell you.”
“Not the details, maybe, but I really don’t understand why- Evan said they took her from you, but not how or why-“
Alex bit her lip. No, she’d never talked about it to Ellen, or her sister, or Anna, or her own mother. It was too much to remember, too much to regret. “Well… I.” She heaved a heavy sigh. Ellen must have been the closest friend she had for a very long time. After that breakup with Evan all those years ago, Ellen had remained her friend, had encouraged her to date other men, and, when the time came, had kept pushing her towards Evan. “You know, I can’t go into details,” she looked into her glass, unable to look at Ellen. “But I just can’t stand facing those memories again. Or make him live through it again. I was so numb for such a long time.”
“Things are different now, though. You’re not living in constant danger, you’re married…”
That wasn’t completely true. Atlantis was no place for a child, and going back home to raise the child on her own would’ve been impossible as well. She shrugged. “I just don’t want to-“
“That’s a pretty bad lie, you know that, right?”
Alex scoffed. “Maybe. But believe me, if I could tell you, you wouldn’t ask again.”
“You know, I’ve missed this!” Evan said, breathing heavily. They were going much too fast and this landscape seriously deserved more of their attention, but somehow they’d just ended up pushing each other to get up this hill as quickly as possible.
“Don’t you get to walk through the woods on your day-job anymore?” Alex gasped, holding a stitch in her side. She stopped and he just knew that they’d have to take a break now. They’d been walking for three hours straight, picking up their pace these last ten minutes or so.
“Not as much, no,” Evan grinned, wiping the sweat off his brow. They were so close to the top now. “Come on.” Getting her to start walking again would either take force or lots and lots of patience. And his heart was racing too fast to slow down. He grabbed her sweaty hand and started pulling her with him. Her skin felt much too warm, but she held on tight to him and started walking again.
“Well, I get to walk much less than you, so ease up a little.”
Evan grunted, but didn’t relent. The Jumpers had certainly made exploring new planets easier, but it also meant that they didn’t hike as much as they used to and it showed. He wasn’t getting fat, not yet, but his lack of stamina shocked him. They really needed to start working out more. Both of them. He pulled her towards him roughly and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. She smelled of sweat and sunblock and the forest around them. “I have to make sure Murdoch’s team goes to worlds with less Spacegates.”
“I could still outrun McKay.”
“Honey, my dad could outrun McKay.”
Alex’s laugh made his heart contract in the best possible way. Even if they had spent some time together and outside the previous year, this hadn’t happened in a while. Before going to Atlantis they’d both been too preoccupied to think of taking a real break and this was the first leisure time which lasted more than two or three days that they had together in…well, ever. It was almost felt like getting to know his wife all over again.
Her hand slid up his side as they overcame the last few hundred metres and the path wasn’t rising anymore. An elderly couple, a dog walking tiredly next to them came into view and his heart sank. Only about a week ago, Monsieur had passed away in his arms, almost like his long-time companion had been waiting for him to come home. They didn’t even need to take him to the vet. Monsieur had just lain there, at the foot of their bed, staring at him, until Evan had lifted him into bed with him and held him, until he stopped breathing. Well he’d almost expected Monsieur to be dead when he got home, so being there for him had been a relief, but it didn’t make it any easier. He’d gotten Monsieur a few weeks after he’d been assigned to the SGC and the dog had been there for both him and Alex in their darkest hour. If it hadn’t been for Monsieur, they wouldn’t even have known that Nora had died until the next morning. At least Monsieur had been there for their little girl. And how best to repay him than to be with him when it was time for him to go.
Alex moved closer to him when they passed the dog, who didn’t pay them the slightest bit of attention. “If we ever get back here,” she said, and he knew with here she meant Earth, “we’ll have to get a dog again.” She sounded hoarse and it didn’t even sound as horrible as it must to others. She didn’t say a new dog, or another dog. You couldn’t replace one dog with another.
“How badly do you want to come back?” he asked carefully, letting go of her. The trail was better tended here than it had been a couple of hundred metres back. They had to be close to the viewpoint and accompanying restaurant now. There seemed to be more people here, among them more elderly couples. They’d taken the rental car up to the top, then taken the bus down into the valley, only to climb up again. Would this be them at some point? Nothing but a couple out on a short walk with their dog and not a care in the world? No, these people had cares and worries. Just not the ones that could mean the end of one or two galaxies.
Alex shrugged. “I don’t,” she said and to his surprise sounded like she meant it. “I mean, sure, I wouldn’t want to stay there forever, but it’s where we’re needed and I like working with the people there and working there itself is so different from it was at the SGC. Well, of course it is, the cultures which developed there are so different from those in this galaxy, and yet so similar…” She smiled apologetically. She had been just about to drift off into excited talk about her work, and she knew that couldn’t happen out in the open like this. There could be other people around.
He nodded. “I kind of feel the same.” Atlantis was his home for now, but more than anything it was a refuge from what had happened to them here. And he had to admit, he liked the excitement and the different pace in the city of the Ancients. Everything was a bit less formal there, and it had a lot to do with their commanding officer, though of course nothing could ever fully erase military etiquette. Colonel Sheppard really didn’t stick by the rules when it didn’t suit him. Not that Evan minded. “I have to admit I didn’t expect you to say that,” he muttered. An arrow up ahead pointed to their left, along a narrow path spluttered with tree roots, but already the parking lot and accompanying bus stop could be seen.
“Why?” With a frown, she disentangled herself from him and slung her backpack forward to get to her water bottle. “Do I seem so unhappy to you?”
“No…” he said, “Just… things haven’t been easy, have they?”
“No.” Alex took a gulp of water and cleared her throat. “No, they haven’t.” She put her bottle away and took his hand again. Forcefully almost. “But, apart from what happened with us, I don’t believe anybody on Atlaaaaanta had it particularly easy.” Her voice grew quieter as another couple, a young man and woman suddenly appeared in front of them, out of another path crossing with theirs.
Evan squeezed her hand and picked up the pace again. “Yes, I get what you mean. I’m just relieved to hear you don’t resent me for dragging you there.”
“You didn’t drag me,” she corrected him. “I would’ve threatened General O’Neill with my bare hands if I had to.”
“Tickets to that please.”
“You really want to see your General begging for mercy?” She bumped into his side as they crossed the parking lot and stopped by their rental car to drop off one of the backpacks.
“Absolutely,” Evan grinned, watching Alex close the trunk again and pocketing the car keys. “He wouldn’t stand a chance against an angry you.”
“I know!” She wasn’t laughing now, but her smile managed to take his breath away. It still happened on a regular basis, but the hot August sun blazing down at them, the loss of tension in his back, made all the terrible stuff that had happened these past few weeks just fade away. For now at least. As she passed him, he grabbed her wrist. “I’m not that hungry, actually,” he murmured, stepping closer to her. They’d barely checked into their hotel last night before drifting off to sleep, and if anything, this was their substitute-honeymoon, or at least that’s what they’d called it. It was highly questionable which day should count as their wedding day. There’d been that short ceremony at the courthouse, but no celebration. They’d started living together as husband and wife on Larsa, but there hadn’t been a ceremony. How much time had passed since he felt connected to her like this again, he couldn’t say, but right now, at this very moment, he felt like that young Lieutenant again. The one who’d approached a beautiful woman and somehow known his life was about to change fundamentally.
Well, no, he didn’t know that back then. He’d been drawn to her and incredibly, that feeling had stuck and here they were, eleven years later. Almost like those years spent separated from each other had never happened. And at the same time he knew her better than he had back then. He knew what she looked like when she was angry, what her voice sounded like when she was so desperate, she could barely bring herself to speak, how she felt in his arms, trembling and shaking. What it was like to be allowed to hold on to her when all the light in his life seemed to have gone out.
“I didn’t come all this way from another galaxy just to shag, Major,” she whispered in his ear, her lips tracing the soft skin beneath his earlobe.
That word alone made him weak in the knees. “Do it anyway?”
She patted his cheek and withdrew. “I really want to try this schnitzel!” She laughed and kissed him briefly. Anna had told her about this place, Evan knew. It must have been a really, really long time ago, but Anna’s story of her childhood holidays had been enough to make Alex drag him here, to this small area in the centre of Germany, where only Dutch people went on holiday. At least, after this, they’d go to Trier. It was high time they visited their old stomping grounds again before heading back to Colorado.
“I sure hope it’s worth it.”
“Can’t be worse than Teyla’s soup?” she grinned up at him. The Athosians threw an annual party commemorating their arrival on Lantea.
“That’s a touch harsh.”
“She apologized before handing me a bowl, that ought to count for something.”
“You are not wrong.” They started heading towards the tower straight ahead and the restaurant attached to it. “So this place is just a viewpoint?”
“And a tourist attraction and apparently, in winter, you can ski here as well.”
Evan grunted. “Good thing we came here in summer.” They’d reached the terrace attached to the restaurant now and there weren’t too many people. Was that a good sign? Probably not, but who cared. He was determined to enjoy their time here, jetlag or no.
The plastic chairs were a bit wobbly and had to be at least as old as rest of the restaurant. He turned around in his chair to look up at the tower completely covered in shales. This region had a lot of that, shales on the outsides of houses. Was the weather this bad here usually if they needed this ugly dark stone to protect their buildings. When he turned around again, he saw that Alex wasn’t looking at him, but to their left, at the landscape spreading out beneath them. And she was right. They could see the ocean every day, and though the view from their quarters on Atlantis was amazing, this was a nice change of pace. To be able to just sit somewhere and look at rolling hills covered in green, the clear blue sky overhead and no pressure to go off-world and no immediate threat from the Wraith.
The waiter arrived and Evan let Alex order for the both of them, relishing in the sound of her voice and how the melody of her speech changed when she started talking a foreign language. She really had that down, though she always insisted that she was no linguistic genius like Jackson. She wasn’t even being humble. She genuinely believed that. Well, she didn’t need to be like Jackson. She’d learned Wraith this past year and that, in combination with her German, French, Ancient, Ancient Hebrew and Greek, Latin, Assyran, and a few other snippets of dead languages, made her fluent in seven languages, as opposed to Jackson, who must speak a trillion languages.
“What?” Alex asked, catching him staring at her. She took off her sunglasses and replaced them with her regular ones, square with no frame at the bottom.
He grinned and shook his head as she took off her glasses again, cleaned them on her sweaty shirt and put them on again. She hated having to wear glasses, but he just loved how they made her look even smarter. “You wouldn’t want me to say.”
“Oh, now I want you to say it.”
“Should we get some ice cream after this?”
Raising her eyebrows, she leaned back in her chair. The corners of her mouth were beginning to twitch. How could this woman really be his? How could she be just satisfied with having him, who only spoke English and German, the latter only badly?
“I thought you wanted to get some sleep.”
“I can have both.”
Her laugh was enough to make him want to get up straight away, drag her to the car and to their hotel.
They didn’t have to wait long for their food to arrive, and Evan had to remind himself that they were on holiday and should enjoy it. Even if schnitzel on a piece of toast with a fried egg on top wasn’t a dish he’d expected. “Huh…” he muttered, reaching for the ketchup bottle to drown his fries in the red sauce.
“It’s typical for this region, apparently,” Alex said, consulting her tourist guide. She’d been studying that thing since their arrival in Germany two days ago. He’d never really met tourist-Alex, he realized and her excitement at seeing and discovering new things fascinated him once again. She could almost see her talking excitedly to what she’d seen to Jackson or Anna.
“It’s good,” he admitted, sprawling a generous portion of ketchup on his fried egg. And he was hungry. Starving almost. Breakfast had been cut a bit short that day. Getting the chance to sleep in for a whole two weeks wasn’t anything he was going to miss, even if it meant only getting scraps at the breakfast buffet. Accordingly, both their plates were clean within minutes, and Alex slipped her napkin under the plate.
“I need to go to the bathroom.”
Evan nodded and reached for his backpack to get his wallet. They were leaving again tomorrow. Two more days, in Trier and then they would be heading home again. Really, this trip had been far too short, and who could tell how long it would take for Daedalus to get back to Earth anyway. Well, that would allow them to spend a couple of days in their house at least.
A movement to his right caught his attention. The young couple which had crossed their path in the forest was preparing to leave. The dark-haired woman patted the man on the shoulder, whispered something in his ear and started walking towards the restaurant. The man caught his eye, nodded once and got up.
“Excuse me,” he said. American accent. Here, in the middle of nowhere. Light green eyes. Red hair, fair skin. “Major Lorne?”
Evan sat up straight, his blood turning to ice.
“No, don’t worry, I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions.” Without being asked, he sat in the chair Alex had just vacated. Questions from a complete stranger, who knew his name. He had to keep himself from whipping around and look out for Alex. She could handle herself.
“Why would you do that?” He forced himself to grin and wave the waiter closer to pay for their lunch. The man kept quiet while the waiter was nearby and didn’t leave for as long as the waiter was within earshot.
“Come on, Evan, you can talk to me. I’d just like to ask you a couple of questions about a common friend and your place of work. Atlantis, right?”
Shaking his head, Evan got to his feet, backpack in hand. “Is that a video game? I’m not a big fan of those.”
With a shrug, the man leaned back and pulled a photograph from his breast pocket. Placing it in front of Evan, he folded his hands in front of his chest. “You’re sure? You’re here with Alex, right? Javier didn’t mention you got married.”
Evan’s mouth was parched as he looked down at the picture. He remembered that face. Of course he did. You didn’t forget the face of a friend like that. A friend he’d betrayed. He was just about to shrug it off and head back to the restaurant, when he saw Alex hurrying towards him, her face white as a sheet. And then his gaze slid to the red splashes on her yellow shirt.
The stranger jumped to his feet, but before he could reach for his belt and the gun he must be hiding there, Evan balled his hand into a fist and punched him in the jaw with as much force as he could muster. The man fell over backwards, but before he hit the ground, Alex reached for his hand and pulled him away from him and towards the car. “Let’s get away from here.”
The running footsteps were right behind them and he could hear the man’s grunts as he tried to catch up with them. Not long now, and he’d draw the gun he’d been reaching for.
A sideways look at Alex told Evan that she was just as prepared for it as he was. She reached into her pocket and threw something at him. Something black and metallic and small. The car keys. “You’re the pilot!” she gasped as a small portion of the asphalt at their feet exploded.
“Get in!” he shouted, unlocking the door from afar. Was this a good idea? He couldn’t be entirely sure, but who could tell how many more accomplices that guy had.
He almost stumbled as gravel splashed up in front of him. Was that guy aiming to kill? Or was he just a terrible shot? Or did he just want them to stop? Cursing, he jumped into the car and started the motor, ducking, when the back window burst and the car door on the passenger side slammed shut.
Putting the car into reverse, he noticed that Alex’s hand was bleeding. What the hell was going on here? “Call the SGC,” hissed, pulling back. The red-haired man smashed into their hood, the gun with the long silencer slipping out of his hand. No time to wait and negotiate a truce. He just stepped on the gas, hoping for the best and felt the car shudder as their pursuer slid off the hood. “You’re okay?” Evan shouted, practically ripping the steering wheel to the left as he sped down the parking lot and into the street.
“Yes,” Alex breathed, dragging the backpack off his lap, smearing blood on the fabric.
“Alex! You’re bleeding!”
She shook her head. “Not mine. What the fuck, how did they find us?!” No Who were they? No What’s going on here? She’d been part of the Stargate Program too long for those to be her first questions. He threw a look over his shoulder. No car right behind them. And they couldn’t go back to the hotel. If these people had found them in a place like that, they must know where they were staying.
“I don’t know,” he breathed, refusing to hit the break as he sped down the road. His reflexes were good enough for this, though he wasn’t entirely sure how well the car would do. It certainly was no F-302. Her hands were shaking as she hit the speed-dial.
“What do you mean it’s not your blood?”
She shook her head. “She cornered me. Asked me how well I remember Larsa…” She grabbed the door handle for support as he threw them into the next road and down into the valley. Larsa… the planet they’d been stranded on for months on end. “I- yes! Hello, this is Doctor Lorne. We’re in Germany and we were just tracked down by two armed people. We’re being followed, one of them’s dead.”
Dead… had she- he looked at her, at the blood on her shirt and on her hand, at how pale she was.
“Yes- yes, I understand. Evan, pull over.”
He didn’t question her. The side of the road was wide enough where they were. Taking a deep breath, he looked at her. Odyssey was bound to be in orbit, ready to beam them out of here.
“You’re sure you’re okay?”
She nodded, though her eyes were wide and she was still breathing heavily. “You?”
“Yeah… rattled, but I’m okay.”
He got out of the car, headed for the trunk to get the other backpack. No time to collect their bags from the hotel, but that could be handled.
Next thing he knew, he was standing in the briefing room of the SGC, the cool, air-conditioned air flooding his lungs, as they stood in front of General Landry and a medical team rushed up the stairs. Alex closed her phone and put it back into her pocket.
“What the hell happened, Major?!”
Evan shook his head. “We were attacked, Sir.” Biting his lip, he looked at Alex. She was still holding his backpack and still looked pale, but this wasn’t anything she couldn’t handle.
“Yes, I gathered that. Why? By whom?”
“You should contact the local authorities, General,” Alex said, waving off the doctor approaching her. “No, really I’m fine. General, there’s a body in that bathroom and I don’t doubt somebody has found her by now.”
“You killed a German citizen, Doctor?”
“No, she was American- or sounded American.”
Evan nodded. “So was the guy who cornered me, General. And armed. There were witnesses who must have seen him drawing a gun.”
“Why? Why you and-“
“They wanted to talk about the SGC. Larsa, Atlantis…” Alex rubbed her forehead. “They must have followed our movements this entire time.”
Landry sighed. “Sit down, both of you.”
“Sir, shouldn’t we go back?”
“No, the IOA will want to hear of this and the NID is going to handle it for now.”
Evan sighed and let himself fall into one of the chairs. This was going to be fun. First the attack, then this. An international investigation.
“Walter, handle this,” Landry said and Harriman hurried off down into the control room. Since when had Harriman been here? This entire time? “Thanks, Doctor Lam, I’ll send them down to you when we’re done here.” Those eyebrows were really distracting, Evan thought, watching Landry sit down in his own chair.
Alex flinched and pulled up a chair. “Yes. Sorry, I’m just- I didn’t expect her to even know the name Larsa.”
Evan nodded. “Yeah, the guy who talked to me mentioned Javier, or rather showed me a picture of him.” Alex’s head whipped around to him.
“Who’s Javier?” Landry asked, sounding annoyed.
“Javier Pérez. He was a Lieutenant in the Air Force, stationed with me in Spangdahlem in 95. Got a dishonourable discharge for- well, for being gay sir, and trying to run off when his boyfriend was killed in action.”
Landry frowned at him and for a second there Evan thought he was going to say something snarky, but Landry just shrugged and jotted down the name. “I’ll have someone look into it.”
“Sir, can I? If anything, I feel responsible now.” If anything had happened to Javier, then it was probably his fault. Anyone who looked into his file, would know that it had been him, Evan, who had told on him and that Evan and Javier had been in the same squadron.
With a nod, Landry leaned back. “You’re going to have to answer these questions again as soon as the investigation kicks off for real- yes, Doctor?”
Alex shook her head. “Sir, would you mind if we cleaned up, first? This …” She held up her still bloodied hand and shrugged.
It wasn’t just the stranger’s blood.
She just hadn’t really noticed the cut on her leg, before she reached the infirmary. Just a shallow cut, but a cut nonetheless. Doctor Lam, the new resident surgeon, bandaged it and gave her a tetanus shot, just in case.
“How did this happen?”
Alex shrugged. “I don’t know… She tried to shoot me in the leg so I couldn’t run, but I just… I don’t know, pushed her arm aside, the bullet hit the sink.” Shaking her head, she looked apologetically at Evan who was sitting on the next bed. She could still feel the hot metal of the gun, one of a similar make she used to take on her first few missions. The way it felt smooth and even and hot against her skin, as she tried twisting it out of the woman’s hand. “I- she shoved me as I tried getting at her gun. That’s how it must have happened.”
Yes, she’d been in fights before, she’d shot bullets before, but never on Earth, never here. Never had she been responsible for a human’s death. After a short fight, she’d managed to get a good hold of the gun, the woman had drawn a knife and things had just… “She must be dead,” Alex whispered. Nobody could survive that kind of wound. A bullet straight to the chest.
Doctor Lam shone a bright light into her eyes and nodded. “You’re still in shock. You need some rest.”
No doubts there. And there wasn’t anything she could do at the moment anyway.
“You too, Major. I’ll let General Landry know that you can’t be questioned until tomorrow morning.”
“Which will be when exactly?”
Doctor Lam looked at her watch. “Six hours.”
Anything could happen in that time. “I have to talk to him now,” Evan said. “Our families could be in danger and-“
“Don’t you think he’s thought of that?”
Ignoring her, Evan leaned in to kiss Alex’s forehead. “I’ll catch up with you.” He was right. If they’d learned anything, it was that the Air Force couldn’t always be trusted. They’d left him and her stranded once. That kind of thing wasn’t something you could just forget. He was out the door before she knew it.
With a sigh, Doctor Lam reached into her pocket and pulled out a blister, which she handed to Alex. “To help you fall asleep. Take one, give one to him when he gets back.” She must have given up giving advice on taking things easy around here. Carson certainly had.
“Thanks, Doctor,” Alex said, getting to her feet and now she felt the sting of the cut. Shock… well, that made sense. But she could walk and that was probably the main thing. If she didn’t have that rudimentary hand-to-hand combat training, she might be dead now. Evan could be dead now. And to think that only a few hours ago, they’d been happily hiking through a hilly region in central Germany, and now they were back at the SGC, stuck under a mountain in Colorado, not knowing what had just happened or why.
She really didn’t need that airman to guide her to the guest quarters. She knew the way by heart right now, but she was too tired to complain. They couldn’t go to their house after what had just happened, so this was how it had to be at the moment. Thanking the airman with a brief nod, she stepped into the bleak, grey room with its queen size bed against one wall and a narrow closet, which held spare uniforms. Without hesitating, she stripped to her underwear and slipped under the covers, shivering in the sudden cold.
One hour passed, then two. The pills were still on the night stand and Evan hadn’t shown up. Of course he hadn’t. She should have known better. She was lying on her back, staring into the darkness. That woman… Alex could still see the shock on her face, hear that low gasp of surprise and pain, feel the ground shake as her body hit the white tiles of the bathroom. It was almost enough to make her throw up.
She got back up again, put on the clean on-base uniform again and left the room. There weren’t any guards in the corridors. Apparently she was the only guest in here at the moment and it was the middle of the night. There were always people around, working feverishly on one project or other, but night-time was still quieter than day-time around here.
One year had passed since she’d walked through these corridors, but it still felt the same. Familiar and cold at the same time.
As she’d expected, Evan was sitting in the small mess hall, a mug of coffee in front of him, his shoulders hunched as he read through a file and twirled a pencil in his right hand. “I thought you said you’d come to bed,” she said quietly, not surprised that he didn’t flinch when she sat down next to him. He just threw her a glance and smiled briefly.
“You’re worried about Javier.”
Evan nodded. “Yes, I wrote to him two years ago and he never replied. What if this is why?”
She reached for his mug and took a sip. How could he stand this taste? “This has to be connected to the Trust or something like that, right?”
“Let’s hope so.” Leaning back, he put his hand on her leg and rubbed his eyes. “Those two knew our personnel files, that’s for sure.”
“What are you reading up on?”
With a shake of his head, he pushed the file he’d been reading towards her. “The Trust isn’t just the Trust anymore,” he said. She knew that. The Trust, an organization composed of ex-NID agents and some wealthy business magnates, had been a pain in the SGCs ass for a while now, even putting Earth into danger occasionally, but there had been rumours in Atlantis, that Goa’uld had started taking over the organization, and looking at the file in front of her, she had to find that those rumours were true. “So, the guys who attacked us were Goa’uld?” she muttered with a frown, turning a page and skimming it, feeling a short pang, when the name Ba’al turned up.
“No, they weren’t very good at what they were doing, were they? A bit unprofessional?”
Alex raised her eyebrows and shrugged. “Would you have preferred pros?” She doubted she could have held her ground against a real assassin and she had to admit, the way that woman had approached her had been more than clumsy.
“No… hey, I hear an Agent Barrett is coming in tomorrow to talk to us.”
“I head of him, never met him…” she skimmed through the file some more, not in the least surprised that, apparently, Ba’al had created multiple clones of himself and placed them all over the galaxy. Talk of a guy afraid to die. The last page consisted of pictures of people connected to the company he’d taken over and the dates when they’d first appeared in some kind of executive function.
“Barton Corp… what do they even make?” Alex asked.
“Books… they’re a publisher. Mostly geeky stuff, but they also own a newspaper or two.”
Alex was reaching for the next file, when her eyes fell on the picture on the bottom left corner. The young woman who’d attacked her had only joined Barton Corp about a year ago. “That’s her,” she said, pointing at the face. “Hera Simon?”
Evan shrugged and reached for another file, one of the thinner ones. The name she’d just said was printed in bold letters on the front. “I thought it must be her,” he said. “And yes, she does look an awful lot like an old friend.” He opened the folder to reveal a sort of CV with her picture in the top right corner. Did she? “She’s, allegedly, the niece of Douglas Barton, aka Ba’al, married to Corbin Simon, who is… this guy.” He opened another file and she recognized the face. Well, the last time she’d seen it, the man had been lying on the hood of their car, pointing a gun at her face, so that fake smile didn’t match with the one she remembered, but there was something else...
Alex pulled the woman’s file closer, staring at the lines around her mouth as she smiled into the camera, the shape of her eyes. There were some similarities between her and Ba’al, certainly. “So, Ba’al sent some rogue, incapable operatives after us? Why? He can’t still be after the gene, if he’s head of the Trust, he must know about Beckett’s gene therapy.”
Evan shrugged. “I don’t know… maybe he really did just want some additional intel. But as far as these files go, Barton Corp has ceased to exist some time ago, about the same time the thing with he multiple Ba’al clones came out. So…”
“So, we still won’t be able to go back home until this case is solved?”
“Looks that way.”
“Great… what did you find out about Javier?”
“Not much…” Evan tapped his pencil on the stack of files and shrugged. “Moved to Nevada after his discharge, worked as a gym teacher for a while, and then joined Barton Corp some time ago.”
“Huh… So, where is he now?”
“I don’t know. Last known address is in New Jersey.”
“So that’s where we’ll be going?”
He looked at her, a smile flickering over his face. “You ready to walk into another trap with me?”
“Sure, that’s what wives are for.” She looked at the other file again. The face on this one seemed familiar as well… she’d seen that guy somewhere before. But- “Corbin Simon…” she muttered. “He made me a job offer…” She bit her lip. “He’s a bit younger than us, but he worked for a big publisher. Wanted me to be a consultant of sorts, right after I contacted Daniel for the first time… huh.”
“This is going to take a while….” Evan muttered. Sheppard wasn’t going to be happy about this delay, but who could tell how much danger their families were in right now? They’d been put under surveillance and Evan knew that they would receive the best protection available on this planet, but for how long? How long until the Air Force decided that the threat wasn’t imminent anymore? They needed to act. And fast.
It must be the last warm day of the season, but the night was bound to be cold. He reached for his hoodie to stuff into his backpack, just in case. She’d get cold, that was for sure. She always did.
“Don’t we have to get going?”
Alex shook her head, her hair falling into her eyes. “Urgh, don’t make me.” Pulling the blanket over her head, she turned away from him.
His heart sank as he watched her. “Come on, Javier and Sam are waiting for us at the restaurant.”
“I know… just, it’s your bed’s fault. Far too cozy.”
Laughing, he bent low over her and pulled the blanket to the side. Her blue eyes flashed viciously up at him and her lips- God be forgiven for putting lips like that on a human being – smiled up at him. They’d been together for just a couple of weeks… Had it been four? Six? Evan couldn’t tell exactly, but there hadn’t been a night when he’d been off-base that he didn’t spend with her. “Come on, I’m starving.”
The grunt emanating from her throat made him laugh even more. “Fine! But don’t ever say that your girlfriend doesn’t take care of you!”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” He tugged at the blanket again and had to hold back not to start this whole thing up again. They really were running late.
“No, mom. We’re okay.” Alex was leaning against the side of the car, phone pressed against her ear, while Evan made sure that their guns were loaded and ready to go. Just in case.
He went through the usual routine, checking the magazine one last time, and handed one of them to Alex, who hid it in the waistband of her skirt. She rolled her eyes at him, as her mother complained loudly enough for him to hear. Something about why that bodyguard didn’t just follow her to the bathroom already.
“Mom, it won’t be for long, I promise. Just a precaution. All the families of expedition members are getting that sort of protection just in case.” She held up her hand and crossed her index and middle fingers. The stone in her wedding band flashed briefly in the sunlight. “I promise. No, I’m not lying. Evan and I are back in the States, yes, visiting an old friend. Yes, I’ll let you know before we leave again.”
He could just see her keeping an exasperated groan to herself as she threw her head back. “Yeah. Yes… Okay… bye!” And then it came. That groan. Heartfelt and so annoyed he wished she’d never think that way about him.
“Liar,” he grinned.
“Yes, well… not entirely. And is it a terrible lie if I’m forced to lie to my mom because my employer makes me?”
“Or for the sake of her own safety and that of humankind?”
She grinned and shrugged. That interview with Agent Barrett had taken more than just a few hours and a bit longer for them to be allowed off-base again, under the strict understanding that they were wired and under constant supervision by the NID. Not that that would be any kind of help if they got into serious trouble. He rubbed her arm and forced himself to return her grin. “Let’s go?”
“Let’s go.” She threw one last look at the black van parked down the street, before she opened the car door. It wasn’t a long ride from where they were to the place Javier had bought a few months ago. They were in a rather nice neighbourhood, which led him to believe that Javier must have done quite well for himself after joining Barton’s little empire.
The house was small and didn’t look anything out of the ordinary. The lawn was well-tended and almost too perfect. A clear sign that either Javier put all his energy into gardening these days, or that he employed a gardener. The Jaguar in the driveway suggested the latter.
“He did quite well for himself, didn’t he?” Alex said with a look at Evan.
“Looks that way. Huh, better than me:”
Alex rolled her eyes. “You should’ve signed up with a master villain”
Evan nodded absentmindedly and squeezed her hand. She didn’t need to be reminded that there were people listening in, but still. The very fact that Ba’al, no matter how, had turned up in their lives again must have her shaken to the core, especially since there was no telling what these people wanted from them.
As they got out of the car, he watched the black van pull into the street and park a good distance away. Time to go. He closed his jacket and walked up to the front door, Alex right next to him. Remembering too well the first time she’d gone on a mission and how worried he’d been, he realized now that he wouldn’t want anyone else by his side. The few missions they’d been on after that time on Larsa had gone fine, but they hadn’t had to rely on one another as explicitly as they did now. And he wasn’t worried about her anymore- no, that wasn’t true. He wasn’t scared for her anymore. She’d grown so much these past three years. Or had she? Had she merely lived up to her potential? That seemed more like it. But that she’d been adventurous had been clear from the start. There weren’t a whole lot of people out there, who were willing to turn a one-night-stand into a relationship like theirs. She’d been all-in from the moment they sat down to have ice cream that day, and there hadn’t been a more reliable person in his life ever since.
It was Alex who rang the doorbell. Alex who tried peering through the window next to it. She shrugged. “Don’t think he’s here.”
“Give it a few more seconds,” Evan said. Back in the day Javier had been a bit slow answering the door, too. But things had apparently changed. Javier was working for a company owned by the most powerful member of the Trust, and this whole thing could turn ugly faster than either of them could like. She gently nudged his side. “Camera,” she whispered. “Over the door. On the right.”
Evan took a step back as if to look up to one of the windows on the upper floor and spotted the small camera straight away. With a nod, he touched her arm. “Nobody there.” They’d walk away for now and come back another time, or never. Before he could turn, however, he heard steps on the other side of the front door.
Good thing they didn’t have to fly tomorrow.
Alex wrapped her arm around Evan’s middle and kissed his cheek. “You’re so drunk!”
“Yes,” he agreed and threw his other arm around Javier. Sam was still inside the restaurant. How many beers had they had? Alex couldn’t remember, but what she did know was that the taxi they’d called would be there soon.
And then Sam stepped into the cool September air, his face flushed and his eyes fixed on Javier, who caught his boyfriend in mid-stride. “Want to go get a hotel room?” Javier asked, brushing the hair out of Sam’s eyes.
“You two do that,” Evan mumbled, his head resting against Alex’s.
“You two as well.”
“We’re gonna go back to our own room,” Alex laughed as the taxi pulled up to them. “Thanks for the offer.”
“Urgh.” Sam pulled a face and kissed Javier square on the mouth. Alex could only hope that nobody spotted them. “Hold the taxi,” she said quietly, patting Evan’s cheek, who collapsed into the backseat. She’d only had two glasses and if that didn’t make her responsible for her friends, then what did? She clapped the two men on the shoulders and started pushing them in the direction of the restaurant again to get them a room in the small hotel attached to it. They couldn’t go back to base and who could tell who might spot them in their apartment building, which was mostly inhabited by officers anyway.
When she finally came back to Evan, she saw that the driver had let the metre running. Of course he had, well, that couldn’t be helped. She wrapped an arm around Evan, who was almost asleep by now anyway and told the man the address.
“You said our room,” he mumbled into her hair. She could hear the smile in his voice.
The moustache was new. Evan hadn’t expected his old friend to smile, or welcome him with open arms, but the moustache nearly knocked him off-balance for a second.
“Hey…” Javier said quietly. He was wearing a dark blue cotton shirt, tucked in neatly into a pair of black jeans. Nothing suspicious about that appearance. “You look businesslike, Captain.”
Was this a ruse? Or did Javier really not know? “Javier. Hey.”
“Alex? Right?” Javier pointed at Alex with a frown. Why was he acting like that? Alex and him had seen each other dozens of times… well, it had been more than ten years, but still!
“Can we come in?” she asked, pushing past him without waiting for permission.
Javier sighed and stepped to the side to let Evan in as well. The house looked like it came straight out of a catalogue. No trace of dust anywhere, a couple of nondescript landscape photographs on the wall to their left, a simple staircase leading upstairs to their right. The kitchen was straight ahead. White tiles, white cupboards.
Without waiting for an invitation, Alex moved into the living room.
“How did you know I lived here?”
“You really don’t know?” Evan asked. They were being monitored. Things would be okay.
“You didn’t look me up, just to say hi, after I didn’t reply to that e-mail?”
Evan shrugged and followed Alex, who was standing on the far wall, looking at pictures. Photographs. “I’m sorry about what happened, okay? I just didn’t know what else to do.”
“You put your own career before our friendship. That’s what you did.”
He nodded. There was no denying it. “I’m sorry.”
Javier waved him off. “Whatever. So… you and Alex still, huh?”
“Yep, still him and me.” Alex said, pointing at one of the pictures. “You don’t live here alone, do you?”
“Oh, that’s Corbin. Just a friend.”
Corbin… Evan exchanged one glance with Alex and knew who she’d seen. That stranger who had attacked them. The husband of the woman she’d killed. “Nice place,” she said, appreciatively. Javier was leaning in the doorway, eying them both suspiciously.
“What do you want from me? When someone doesn’t reply, that usually means they don’t have anything to say.”
“Look,” Evan said, taking a step towards Javier, when a voice sounded quietly in his ear: Car approaching. “The Air Force sent us.”
“Us?” Javier laughed softly, making the hair on Evan’s arms stand on end. “You work for the Air Force?” He was looking at Alex now.
“Good pay,” she said with a sweet smile.
“And what would the Air Force want from me?”
“It’s a matter of national security, actually,” Evan said, half expecting Javier to step to the side and draw a weapon, but Javier just raised his eyebrow in mock interest.
“Really, well, Captain-“
“Major, actually.” Alex said, standing up for him. He suppressed a smile. Usually it was he who reminded people of her title. And then that voice spoke again. The people in the van really were paying attention. Car pulled to a stop, but nobody’s coming out. Wrap things up, Major Lorne.
“Fine, Major, I have no idea what you want from me.”
“You work for a man called Douglas Barton?” Alex sat down on the edge of a comfortable-looking chair, feigning being comfortable, when she must have heard the same voice Evan had. “What can you tell us about him?”
“Barton?” Javier laughed, “The guy vanished a couple of weeks ago, and now you tell me that has something to do with national security? Why?”
“Because your friend,” Evan began, “Corbin Simon tried to kill us yesterday. He mentioned you. And you both work for a company that threatens-“ It’s Simon. Evan’s heart dropped, but he kept talking, his tongue only stumbling briefly- “national security. That’s why we’re here. We need to know what you know.”
“He-what?!” Javier seemed genuinely surprised.
“You heard me,” Evan said.
“What the hell is wrong with you? You show up here after ten years to tell me-“
He’s leaving again. Lorne, we need to break this off and follow him. Leave the premises.
“- that you’re sorry and make some weird accusations? What the hell?”
With a shake of her head, Alex got to her feet. She dug in the pocket of her jacket and took out a business card. “Give us a call when you’re ready to talk, okay?”
“I don’t know anything, what do you even want from me?!”
Evan shrugged. “I’d ask you to trust me, but I guess that’s a bit much to ask, I guess.”
Javier scoffed and didn’t take the card Alex was offering him. She put it on the mantlepiece.
“I’m under surveillance now, huh?”
Alex raised her eyebrows. “A bit of cooperation would go a long way,” she said as Javier started wiping his hands on his trousers.
“I’m just a military consultant.”
“Sure,” Evan said.
“Do you think he as lying?” Alex shut the door behind her, her eyes still fixed on the house.
“Yes,” Evan grumbled, starting the engine. “I wish we had more time with him.”
Go back to the Motel, Major, said Barrett’s voice in her ear.
“You know, I’m here as well,” Alex hissed, leaning back in her seat as Evan steered the car on the road, making him chuckle appreciatively. She ripped the microphone cable unceremoniously from its transmitter.
Sorry, Doctor. We’ll meet you at the hotel. And then the transmission ended. The black van must finally be out of reach.
“So…” Alex said, looking at him. His eyes were fixed on the street, his brow furrowed and his lips pressed into a thin line. “What?”
Evan shook his head. “I’m sure he knew we were coming,” he said, “and that he was lying about his job, but…”
“He didn’t know about Simon. I’m sure of it.”
“You think he’s really oblivious to the attack?”
“Maybe… it wasn’t a real attack either, though, was it? The Trust is so big, if they wanted us dead, we’d be dead. And we’d already been back on Earth for over a week, travelling the whole time. They could’ve gotten us whenever, wherever.”
“Hm…” Alex shrugged. “Bit stupid to risk their operatives’ lives like that,” she agreed. “So clumsy…”
“I’m not sure about that. You’re not clumsy. I’ve seen you fight Wraith and Jaffa. You’re not exactly a weak flower, dear.”
“Heh, thanks. Just the thing a girl wants to hear.” It was meant as a compliment, though, and his words made that familiar warmth spread through her chest. Reaching out, she put her hand on his knee.
They didn’t catch Simon Corbin. Evan couldn’t say he was surprised. Ba’al had avoided capture for over a year, and who could tell if there weren’t still any clones here on Earth.
Javier was put under surveillance, but from what they could tell, he didn’t do anything suspicious. He went to work, then to the gym and back home again. Well, of course he didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. He must know that he’d be closely watched.
Evan and Alex weren’t allowed to go home, but were stuck on the base, when they should be walking through Trier. Slowly but surely it was driving him crazy. She could see it from the way he kept pacing their room when he couldn’t find any work to be done anymore. No new information turned up and at some point there just wasn’t any more paperwork to be done. So she put him to sketching artefacts which various SG- teams had brought in. Having a human hand draw them always brought more attention to certain details, which could easily be overlooked in photographs. A human eye was just more observant in some respects and she knew Daniel and the other archaeologists would appreciate Evan’s efforts. But that still didn’t make Evan less uneasy. To be fair, she didn’t feel particularly useful here either. Research and exploring hitherto unknown worlds had rather taken a step back in an attempt to help the people of the galaxy defend themselves against the Ori.
Two days passed, then three and no news reached them. Nothing. She had never been confined like this and she was on the brink of becoming a gym addict. The grey walls surrounding them, the constant hum of the air conditioning however kept her from going there too often. But they also kept her from staying in their room for too long.
She envied the SG-teams who at least had something to do, and not even the tasks Daniel shoved in her direction kept her occupied for too long. The dreariness in here had never really bothered her, but then again, she’s been allowed to leave the complex when her work was done.
On the fourth day, Daedalus had left Atlantis almost two weeks ago, and they’d gotten a couple of brief notes from the latest transmission, she and Evan returned from a brief workout and sat down in the cafeteria. Work, gym, food, bed, work, gym, food, bed… that was their routine and it was mind-numbing to say the least. She wasn’t even interested in the pasta served that day, and that was saying something. Evan reached for the biggest slice of cake on display. He was getting positively pasty with boredom and she guessed it was only a matter of time before he begged to be assigned to an SG-team, just for the heck of it, to do something useful. And she’d beg to come along. This whole waiting-thing was driving her insane.
“This blue jelly,” she heard a woman say, “What’s the matter with that. Why is it always blue around here?”
“I don’t know.” Daniel was sitting opposite a dark-haired woman in pig tails, who was scraping the whipped cream of her blue jell-o to put it on her pasta in tomato sauce.
“What are you doing?”
“It’s too sour.”
“Actually not a bad idea,” Evan agreed from where they were standing.
“Major!” Daniel looked up, seemingly surprised at their standing right next to them and looking relieved to see them. “Alex! Sit down, please!”
“I know you,” the woman said and Alex grinned as she sat down next to Daniel. “I don’t know you.” She pointed her spoon at Evan, who took a seat next to her.
“No, you don’t, Ma’am,” he said with a smile. He’d been off-world that brief time SG-1 had spent on Atlantis the previous year.
“Did he just call me Ma’am?” She sounded downright offended.
“Vala, this is Major Lorne, and this,” Daniel pointed at Alex, “is Doctor Lorne. And yes, you met her before.”
Alex couldn’t stop grinning. SG-1 had been on a mission when she and Evan arrived and had embarked on another when they were forced to return here several days early.
“Major and Doctor,” Vala said thoughtfully, eying Evan with a smirk on her face. “You’re not siblings by any chance?”
Shaking his head and reaching for his fork, Evan held up his left hand to show her his wedding band. He threw Alex a questioning look but got his answer from Vala instead.
“Vala…” Daniel said warningly.
Alex leaned back in her chair. “When did you get back?” she asked, trying to distract Daniel from the woman who was apparently doing everything in her power to keep his attention.
“Yesterday,” he replied with a sigh.
“How bad is it out there?”
He shrugged, and threw a glance at Vala. “Bad,” he said quietly. Last thing she’d heard, Dakara, the homeworld of the new Jaffa Nation had been destroyed by the Ori. Really, those armies were certainly a bigger threat than the Goa’uld had ever been.
“Is there anything we can do to help?” Alex asked, pushing the pasta around on her plate.
“Aren’t you going back in a few days?”
“Well, yes.” Evan took a sip of coffee and shrugged. “But until then we’re just stranded here on base. We can’t even go home. “
“Nobody believes how dull this place is.” Vala nodded appreciatively. “I mean, Teal’c does, but he doesn’t complain much.”
“Jaffa don’t complain that much in general,” Daniel grinned. The way he looked at her, almost adoringly and at the same time incredibly annoyed. Did he even know it? Probably not. But Vala must notice it. She was much too perceptive a person not to. When Alex had met her first, when she and SG-1 had been to Atlantis and Alex had given her the small tour after they found what they were looking for, she’d been a bit surprised at how bubbly Vala was. Bubbly and eerily sad and impulsive at the same time. An extrovert covering up for someone else. Someone who surely wouldn’t show their true face to a stranger like Alex. But she sensed that Daniel would be someone who’d be more than willing to put an effort into finding out who that other person was, though maybe Daniel didn’t even know it himself. These two were close. Closer than either of them would probably care to admit.
“So, what can we do?”
Daniel raised his eyebrows. “Well, thanks for the drawings, first of all,” he looked at Evan now, “they’ve already been kind of useful, and maybe-“
“Drawings? This man is an artist?” Vala’s eyes shone with excitement as she turned to face Evan again, “You know, I’ve been told, by a very talented painter on a planet called Sead, that my bone structure made me the perfect model.”
Evan grinned at her then and quickly hid his expression by shoving his fork into his mouth. “Really?”
“Sead?” Alex asked quietly, exchanging a glance with Daniel. “That’s-“
“I know, Ba’al’s domain, but, you know, I used to work as a privateer-“
“Pirate,” Daniel interrupted her, earning a look of utter disgust from her.
“Pirate, Vala. I was there, remember?”
Vala scoffed and threw one of her pig-tails over her shoulder. “I’m sure you do. Anyway, in my days as a privateer, I was exceptionally popular with the gents, but this man was particularly intriguing. He told me of a treasure,” she tapped her index on the table in front of her, “consisting of eight hundred and eighty two pieces of Goa’uld treasure which had turned an entire crew of mercenaries and head-hunters into undead monsters, roaming Ba’al’s domain and incredibly hard to kill. And guess what-“
“Sounds an awful lot like Pirates of the Caribbean to be honest,” Evan said between two bites.
“Huh… you’ve seen that one?”
Winking at her, he pulled Alex’s plate towards him to take a bite. “You want to get a room?” Alex asked a bit too cheerfully. Not that she minded Vala flirting at Evan, but she certainly minded him going along with it, even if it was only in jest. What annoyed her most however was the fact that it annoyed her at all.
“Nah, she’s all yours, Jackson,” Evan grinned, touching Alex’s leg casually with his foot before getting to his feet. “If you don’t need my help, I’ll be in our little room, drawing some more.” Reaching for his tray, he was just about to turn away from them, when an airman approached him. “Sir,” he saluted briefly.
“At ease, Sergeant,” Evan said in a tone so casual, so used to authority, that it made Alex’s heart miss a beat. Would she ever get used to how easy it was for Evan to take charge like that? How naturally it came to him? “What is it?”
“Sir, General Landry would like to see you and Doctor Lorne in his office.”
Evan nodded curtly. “Thanks. We’ll be there.”
“No minute of peace in this place.” Vala pushed her plate away and stood up.
Raising her eyebrows at Vala, Alex put down her spoon and fork. “I thought you were bored out of your skull.”
“Weird how these things coincide sometimes.”
“And you know you weren’t asked to join them, right?” Daniel said into his mug, trying, and failing to hide his grin.
The scowl on Landry’s face didn’t bode well. But then again, the man rarely did anything but scowl. After General O’Neill, every other leader of the SGC was bound to look grim. Not that O’Neill was naturally cheery, but O’Neill rarely seemed to take things too seriously.
He was on the phone when Alex and Evan appeared in his doorway but motioned for them to take a seat anyway. “Yes, Jack, I agree. Well, nothing to be done. Right. I’ll let them know. Sit down, already,” He practically slammed the phone on the receiver and shook his head. “Well, the Germans finally released the body of the woman,” he said, pushing his pen across the desk.
“It’s been, what, a week?” It didn’t seem too long to Alex. But then again, the woman had been a foreigner and killed by a foreigner. The face of the dying woman flashed before her eyes once again, but she pushed it away quickly.
“A week, yes, and the President is desperate to have this whole mess cleaned up.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” It sounded like the President thought this attack as an inconvenience, not an international incident. Well, not just the President, but her government as well?
“Well, they caught Mr Simon a couple of hours ago, but couldn’t get anything out of him. Yet. He claims not to know what’s going on, or anything about you.”
“Big surprise there,” Evan muttered, taking a deep breath.
“I agree. But that doesn’t really matter now.” Landry clicked his tongue and shook his head. “A theft been discovered at Area 51. Must have happened about the time you two were attacked.”
Alex blinked, taken aback. “Excuse me?” So this whole thing was supposed to be a cover-up? A goose chase to draw the Air Force’s main attention away from its most important research facility?
“What was taken?”
Landry’s lips formed a smirk as he shook his head. “Blueprints of the 304.”
Alex’s heart plummeted. How could that have happened? Weren’t those better protected? Just because the main focus of the SGC had been on her and Evan for a couple of hours, someone had managed to sneak something that vital past the guards of Area 51? What was that supposed to say about the security for their families? She swallowed hard.
“How?!” Evan asked incredulously.
“The whole staff is under investigation of course, but three scientists managed to get away, some of them, apparently, with connections to Barton Corp.”
Evan scoffed. “So, what are we doing now?”
“For now, the thing will remain top secret. Even within the SGC and Homeworld Security. The President doesn’t want information of this theft to get out there. Wouldn’t go too well with our allies.”
“No kidding,” Alex muttered. Plans for the 304 meant also their methods of re-creating Asgard technology, and if that was no reason to be worried, then the fact that the Trust was still in the hands of the Goa’uld certainly was. No wonder the President wanted to keep this hushed up for as long as possible.
“So, for now, you two can go home, but there’ll still be a security detail in front of your house. Your families will remain under special protection for another week or two, but from what we can gather, this whole thing is over. The Trust kept us busy and that’s that.”
“That can’t be the end of it,” Alex said quietly, shaking her head. “There’s a dead body, there’s about a dozen lose ends on this.”
“I agree,” Landry nodded. “But the President wants things to be smoothed over for now. Wait for the plans to re-emerge in one form or the other. We just don’t have any more leads, but rest assured, as soon as we do, SG-1 will be on it.” That made things final. They’d just go back to Atlantis, leaving this whole mess untended to. Landy smirked. “Sorry, but that’s all I can say for now.”
It was like a countdown.
One week until Daedalus would leave again.
Seven days until their return to Pegasus.
Really, it had only been a delay of a week, but it felt like so much longer. But at least they got to go home, to their house. At least they could see the sky when they got off work. Evan had taken to training young recruits, getting them ready to work alongside them in Pegasus, telling them what awaited them there, who the enemy was, what their weaknesses were, what the new men and women needed to look out for, while Alex did her best to introduce the scientists to their new work schedule and teach them a few basic commands in Ancient. That self-learn book she and the other archaeologists had devised over two years ago had been implemented a while ago, but the physicists, especially those fluent in Klingon, preferred using the interface which McKay and Zelenka had introduced. Well, they’d run into trouble soon enough. One of McKay’s hastily set-up programs would glitch and then they’d have to face McKay’s wrath. Luckily McKay wasn’t spiteful for long. He was much too preoccupied with boosting his own ego to remain angry at one single person for long. Of course, she didn’t tell them that.
There were no news on Barton Corp, or their involvement with the Trust, or the theft at Area 51, except that the Hera Simon’s body had vanished on its way from Frankfurt to the US. Not really a comforting thought, but neither was the fact that a black van remained parked at the end of their road. She couldn’t shake the feeling that there’d been something General Landry hadn’t told them, but she didn’t dare bring it up. Evan didn’t talk about Javier anymore either.
And so she checked that the cargo which had to be taken aboard Daedalus was complete, helped Daniel catalogue artefacts and was, in general, glad to know that when they got back from Atlantis at some point, this thing was bound to have cleared up. At least that was what she hoped. Evan didn’t quite share in her optimism, but there wasn’t anything they could do about the investigation, where it was going or what might happen next or dropped altogether. Corbin still wouldn’t speak, or that’s what he and Alex were told anyway.
Evan stood by the window and watched the black van leave. There wouldn’t be any need for them to be here in a few hours anyway. In a couple of days the security would be withdrawn from their families’ homes as well. He looked through the bag on their bed and at the clothes and painting utensils spread out on the blanket. How was that supposed to fit? When had he started accumulating so much stuff?
But could he really abandon his watercolours and only take the acrylics with him? He’d already decided to leave the oils behind, because, seriously, who had time for oils these days? Or should he just take the one sketchbook? But what would he do if he wanted to draw something big? You can get paper in the Pegasus Galaxy. Well, yes, but not the kind of paper he wanted, forget about canvases.
Well, he’d made do with ordinary sketching and watercolour paper before. So, why not now? Ruffling through his hair, he took a step back. “Alex?” he shouted down the staircase, but she didn’t respond.
No use staring at the bag for now. He still needed to clean the dishes and take the trash out. He could just as well finish this or figure out a way of smuggling an additional bag on board later on.
Alex was still fast asleep. He had to force himself to keep walking and not stand in the doorway to watch her. She must still be drugged and that last mission was bound to be taking its toll now.
Monsieur was lying on the blanket, his head on his paws. Like he was guarding her. He didn’t even know her, why was he so attached to her?
Evan took one step towards the staircase, then walked back to look at Monsieur. Well, to look at Alex again, if he was honest with himself. Seeing her here, in his house, after such a long time, made something contract painfully in his chest. The previous night, after he’d seen her with that bleeding hand, all pale and shaken up, he just couldn’t bring himself to take her home and just leave her. Really, he shouldn’t be surprised. It was either be angry with her or fall for her head-over-heels. Neither was a good option. Maybe being friends could be a compromise. Yes, that was bound to work exceptionally well. But he just couldn’t face the alternative or the consequences in the workplace.
If anything, she was partly his responsibility now, and not just as his girlfriend. She was a civilian, and they protected their civilians. That’s how he had to think of her now. A civilian under his protection, not someone he could love. Well, that would be near impossible. Her closeness, her drugged confession, had rattled him and made falling asleep without aching to have her in his arms, of kissing her, of pinning her body beneath him, impossible.
He swallowed hard when she turned around. Her eyes were still tightly closed, her face relaxed and so soft, he could feel the urge to move in there and lie down next to her, wrap her in his arms and never let her go. But the implications were just too much. He couldn’t do that again. He couldn’t allow her in like that again. Not as long as he still felt the pain of leaving her.
Back then, he’d thought that feeling would pass. Not straight away, but eventually. Well, it didn’t. Not until this day. And here she was. In his house. In his guest room. He’d taken her up there himself, pulled the cover over her body, after she’d fallen asleep just after lying down. Her hand had been grabbing his shirt even as her eyes fell closed and it had taken him all the control he could muster to pull away, or he’d kiss her awake again.
His eyes were fixed on her lips, his mind racing.
A car door slammed outside and Monsieur’s head jerked up. The neighbour whistled that familiar tune and Monsieur lay back down.
It was enough to rip Evan out of his reverie. He practically ran down the stairs to make coffee.
His steps were light and he jumped over the last stair. “Alex?”
She was sitting at the kitchen table, bent low over a sheet of paper.
“You’re working?” She could do that all the way back to Atlantis.
“Hm,” she said, turning a page.
“What is it?” He leaned closer, a hand trailing down her back. The top secret stamp in the top right corner confirmed his suspicions. Those things weren’t supposed to leave SGC.
“Just the report on Barton Corp. Again.” She leaned back with a sigh. This was seriously getting to her, and he couldn’t exactly say that he didn’t think about it constantly either. Whatever Landry had said, that the attack had been nothing but a cover-up for that theft at Area 51, he couldn’t forget that Barton was Ba’al and what Ba’al had done to them.
He pulled up the chair next to her and moved his hand up her arm. “Nothing we can do right now,” he said quietly.
She nodded. “Just… I know, it’s stupid.” Taking his left hand in hers, she started twisting the wedding band. The soft touch left a warm trail on his skin.
“No, it’s not. But there are so many people looking for him right now, they’re bound to find him.”
“Which one? The galaxy is pretty massive, you know?” Alex snorted, not looking up to meet his gaze. She was still staring at the ring. Nobody knew how many Ba’als were out there. The only person who might know was the original Ba’al, and who could say how many clones had made clones of themselves. And then there was that woman, Hera Simon, on which there’d been next to no information anywhere. And now that the body had vanished, it was highly unlikely they’d get a proper ID on her. That was, unless she was a female version of that same clone?
He shivered. The thought alone was a little more than disturbing. “Alex, we never really talked about-“
She shook her head. “Beckett said she wasn’t a clone.” Nora. Their daughter hadn’t been a clone, or at least Beckett didn’t think she was.
Evan pressed his lips together. “And it doesn’t really matter even if she was?” He could sense her tensing up, starting to pull away. He grabbed her hand and shook his head. “Don’t.”
“No, it wouldn’t matter. And… don’t you think we would’ve found out about that by now? They would’ve told us, had they found any trace of her, or any baby.”
Taking a deep breath, he traced his thumb over the back of her hand. “Yeah… I think so too.” O’Neill would’ve made sure of that. “But you can’t let this go either.” He nodded at the file, making Alex shrug.
“No…” How should he, when they’d spent the better part of the past two weeks locked up because of it, and of course he’d thought of Nora more than once every hour. It was hard not to. He raised her hand to his lips and shook his head. “This’ll never go away.”
Alex blinked, fighting back the tears. “I’m so sorry.”
“What for? None of this is your fault.”
She bit her lip. “Well, no, but I can still say I’m sorry that we don’t have a kid. Not- not that I want to try it again,” she paused, hesitating and swallowing an addition to that statement, “but I know you’re a great dad. You’d be a great one again.”
She made him laugh despite himself and his cheeks grew hot. “Don’t get me wrong, I thought we both would be incredible at it and we were for a while.” The smile vanished from his lips. “But we’re doing alright now? Aren’t we?”
“Just the way you interacted with Ellen’s kids…”
“I have the uncle bonus. I’d never have that with my own kid.”
She swallowed hard, but he was just glad she was talking to him about Nora. After her death, Evan had almost been sure she’d never bring up the topic. Shaking his head, he drew her so close, she had to get up and sit on his lap. Her weight on his legs was just the thing he needed right now, just as he needed to feel the softness of her waist in his arms. “I’m just glad I still have you.” How things would have turned out had they never talked about Nora again, about losing her, about how the loss was ripping them apart, wasn’t hard to imagine. They would’ve broken up over it. And it had been a close call, Evan knew that now.
Alex reached up to touch his face, to trace the lines on his face. When they’d started appearing he couldn’t say, but they were there. He’d seen them in pictures, the thin ones around his eyes, the ones edged into his cheeks when he smiled. “I was thinking,” she began quietly, her blue eyes claiming his with their usual ease. But she didn’t proceed. Falling silent, tracing the contours of his face, she just looked down at him, her brow furrowed and the barely visible crows feet in the corners of her eyes.
“You thinking is usually a good thing. Go on.” He smiled up at her, allowing his hand to roam up and down her spine and explore the softness and the warmth of her. They didn’t have a whole lot of time left. He thought he knew where this was going, and the idea terrified him and excited him at the same time. What a strange thing to feel.
“I was thinking that maybe, after some time, we could…” She bit her lip and shook her head. “No, it’s a dumb idea.”
“I don’t believe a word of it. Come on.” He laughed now and ignored the itching in his fingers to open the top button of her dress.
With a sigh, she closed her eyes for a moment and threw her head back, staring up at the ceiling as though the courage to say what she needed to say could be found there. “Maybe, after some time, we could try… again?”
It wasn’t entirely unexpected after she’d just brought up the topic, but it still took him off-guard to hear her say it out loud. Like he’d suddenly stepped into emptiness. They’d agreed. They’d told their parents they wouldn’t try for another child. And it was insane. What it would do to them… He leaned his head against her chest and wrapped her in a tight embrace. Her heart was right beneath his ear, the rapid beating of it telling him how hard this question was for her. Was it a completely insane one? Were they crazy even thinking about it? And what about Nora? Nothing would bring their daughter back. And even if, and that thought tore at his heart more than he cared to admit, there turned out to be a hundred clones of their daughter out there, there would never be a replacement for the child they’d lost.
Closing his eyes when her fingers started gently brushing through his hair, he tried letting that thought sink in. She was thirty-five, he’d just turned thirty-six. They still had time to do this and do it right. But could they? After what had happened to them? He let his hand trail up her leg, imagining what it would be like to hold a baby again. To hold it and know it was theirs and that nothing could ever happen to it. And that’s where it stopped. That’s where that image of a warm bundle of helplessness and love blurred. Nobody could promise that what had happened to Nora wouldn’t happen again. “I don’t know,” he said quietly. Forget about the possibility of that other faceless and nameless child dying, which was bad enough, or being stolen again, which was unbearable. He would remain stationed on Atlantis. And what about Alex and the child? Would they be sent home as soon as a pregnancy became common knowledge? Three weeks to get to Earth. Three weeks to come back. That’s what it would take to see his wife and child again. But he’d have a child… he wouldn’t have it with him, he wouldn’t see Alex. “Maybe… one day… we’d have to talk to-“ Who? Who should they address? Doctor Weir? That was insane. Approaching Weir with their plans for a family.
She nodded. “Maybe is good enough. I just- I want you to be a dad.” Evan looked up at her, but that trace of doubt remained in her eyes as well. Did she want to be a mom? He tried swallowing, but his mouth was parched.
“That’s not a good enough reason,” he rasped, patting her knee.
“No. Let’s- let’s talk about it some other time?”
Their house already felt alien when they left it early next morning and the graveyard was all but deserted. They had to be at SGC at seven o’clock, which, right now, left them about an hour to spare. Alex was dead on her feet. Sleep hadn’t come to either of them. First, because they wouldn’t let it even come near, second because they had to reorganize both their bags to fit all the stuff they wanted to bring, including the ten bars of chocolate for Anna, Evan’s art supplies and the additional books, both non-fiction and novels, Alex wanted to bring. She’d only packed big ones, knowing that the next shipment of novels might take months, and then she was missing a couple of works on her field of studies and Anna had complained about that as well.
The flowers had started to grow already. Despite the heat and drought, the first few bits of green could be seen sprouting from the earth which Evan had dug up. They both stood there, arms tightly around each other as they looked down on the grave. Their talk last night hadn’t led them to a decision. Not a real one. Only, that they would talk about it again. Staring at the stone, at the name and that little silvery star, made her chest ache and longing spread through her entire body. For Nora and for that feeling. That feeling of sadness and joy. But it would never be the same. Or would it?
Looking at Evan, she saw the creases on his forehead, the tightness of his lips. He must be thinking along the same lines she was. Were they betraying their daughter just contemplating the thought of giving it another try? Of giving a family another shot, another chance?
His nose twitched and he turned his head to look at her, a smile spreading across his face. “We’ll be back before you know it.”
Yes, in about a year, when they’d get their next short holiday. Or, if the Gate Bridge was done, they might be here a bit sooner, maybe even for Christmas. Whatever happened, Nora would be waiting for them. She patted his chest and kissed the corner of his mouth. Whatever happened, Evan would be with her, and, really, what else could she demand of fate? She should count herself lucky to have him and a life and work that fulfilled her. Tempting Lady Fortune really wasn’t in the cards right now.
But how long could she wait? How long could they wait, before getting pregnant again would be a risk? Wasn’t it already? If they waited a year or two, and it didn’t happen straight away, then she’d be almost forty. The thought made her hear plummet. Was she really willing to risk that? She bit her lip and pulled him closer again, forcing herself to remember that what they had was good, and that talking about a family just wasn’t in the cards right now.
“Have you met McKay’s sister yet?”
Evan was just starting on the weights, his muscles clearly pronounced under his thin shirt. Alex stood for a moment, watching him. There were times when she was happy just watching him like this. And why not? The way his biceps stood out as he pulled the bars to the front of his body, the way his whole torso was tense and firm, was a pleasing sight. And as he caught her eye and looked away again, she knew that he was aware of her gaze. “McKay has a sister?”
“Jean Miller,” Alex explained, moving from the treadmill over to rowing machine. “Theoretical physicist, brilliant, and apparently on the verge of revolutionizing all our electricity needs. Met her, just now at lunch.”
“Sounds fab,” Evan huffed, concentrating hard on sitting upright as he pulled his arms forward and together. “Civilian?”
Evan raised her eyebrows at her as she sat down and started on her exercises. “Okay. And what else?”
“She seems nice, but she’s been cooped up with McKay most of the time, so maybe no small wonder you haven’t met her yet.”
“Hm,” he grunted, stopping for a moment to look at her. “Anything interesting in that last data burst from Atlantis for you?” He’d been busy looking over mission files all day. That’s why he’d asked her to meet her here for a short work-out. They hadn’t really spoken all day. But they’d learned to do things together every day. Two years of working for the Stargate Program had allowed them to make up a schedule of their own.
Alex bit her lip. They’d entered comm range with Atlantis a couple of hours ago and yes, she had gotten messages. Some of them bearing exciting news, one of them a devastating one.
“Is everything okay?” he asked, looking up at the surveillance camera and starting again. They were alone in the small gym, but that didn’t mean they weren’t being watched. Alex followed his gaze and felt her stomach churn.
“I think so,” she muttered, her hands clenched around the bars in front of her. The motion wasn’t entirely unfamiliar, she’d done some rowing as a teenager, but it was different, doing it on a machine. But it was good having to concentrate on something new.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Evan stop in mid-motion and then let go of the bars altogether. “What?”
Alex sighed. She shouldn’t have said anything. She should have just pretended that she wasn’t worried. Not that Evan wouldn’t have been able to see straight through that.
Looking up at the camera, she mulled it over. With a shrug, she got up again, reached for her towel and her water bottle and gave Evan a significant look. Screw working out. “Anna found something that might be interesting. When we get back my team’s going to Athos. Anna already cleared it with Teyla. Apparently there hasn’t been any Wraith Activity on that planet since that last calling. There used to be an Ancient Outpost there once, and Anna thinks there might be some interesting things there. Old, broken devices probably, but there might be other things. Artefacts, something fun for us nerds.” The towel was too soft as she rubbed it over her face. She’d never been a fan of fabric softener, or putting fabrics in the drier, but she’d get used to it again.
Evan took a couple of gulps from his own bottle and nodded at her. The last time they’d travelled from Earth to Atlantis, they’d both been tense, not knowing what awaited them and terrified of the battle to come. But that journey had only taken four days. Nothing compared to the twenty-one they had to face this time. That Gate Bridge really couldn’t come quickly enough. Especially now.
He walked close by her side, their arms almost touching, their fingers brushing up against each other. Hand-holding was no option here. They were both on duty and life on the Daedalus was stricter than life on Atlantis, or even under Cheyenne Mountain. There wasn’t as much room and people valued professionalism in these close quarters. But Evan sensed that something was off, so he didn’t mind pushing the boundaries a little.
A technician was busy at work in the elevator, apparently doing a quick check of the systems. These people must be bored out of their minds as well and she didn’t pay them any attention as she worked on the console, every now and again glancing down on her tablet. Evan’s hand closed around hers for a moment and his quizzical gaze made her stomach tighten.
She shook her head and focused on the technician’s tablet instead, at the green background and the white tiles that needed to be sorted. She grinned and straightened the glasses on her nose.
“You have a seven of clubs right there,” Evan muttered, pointing at the tablet. “And really, don’t let anybody else see you’re playing solitaire. Just hide it a bit better, okay?”
The technician, a really young woman with short dark hair and a tiny nose, looked almost frightened at being addressed by him, but she nodded curtly and turned to face the console again, her cheeks bright red. This must be her first trip, Alex guessed. Lightly slapping Evan’s arm, she stepped into the corridor as soon as the elevator doors opened again and ignored the smug smile on Evan’s face. “Evil,” she muttered, hurrying to get to their door, where they’d finally have some privacy.
“So?” He asked as soon as the door closed behind them and throwing the towel into the small laundry basket. “Just that mission to Athos that has you worried? Doesn’t sound like you.”
Alex swallowed hard. This wasn’t going to be easy. She looked at the small desk and her laptop. “Sit down,” she said quietly. She heard him move behind her and sit down on the bed. The plastic rustled softly as he emptied his water bottle. Strangely enough the sound calmed her down, when she should be freaking out about having to tell Evan about the email.
Sitting down next to him, she handed him the laptop with the message open. Watching him reading, his eyes darting from left to right, his mouth set, was probably worse than reading the message herself. “Who’s Russel Chapman?” he asked. “IOA?”
“Yes. UK representative.”
Evan read the message again, then closed the laptop. “Huh…” he said, falling quiet for a moment. The fact that he wasn’t looking at her, that he was staring down on his trainers, told her all she needed to know. He was just as terrified as she was. “They want you back on Earth.” No question. Just a statement.
“Looks like it.”
The unhappy laugh made the hair on her neck stand on end. “Well, that’s convenient, we just left. What a waste of resources.” He leaned forward, ruffling his hair.
“What are you going to do?”
Alex huffed. “Refuse? The only problem is that I don’t work for the SGC anymore, but for the IOA… and since I’m English, and apparently the EU want to start sending their own team through the Gate…” Her heart sank watching him. Signing up with the IOA had to happen, because they were in charge of the expedition. She was not part of the US military and therefore she had to switch contracts. The drop in pay had been something she’d been more than willing to accept, since there really wasn’t anywhere in Pegasus to spend Earth money, but the fact that her own government had now direct control over where she worked, wasn’t something she had anticipated.
“Damn it…” Evan wiped his brow and shook his head. “No way they’re sending me back as well.” And he didn’t want to go back straight away. And really, neither did she. Life on Atlantis was good for them, it had done them good.
“I’ll talk to Doctor Weir first thing,” Alex said, staring at the back of his head, “and if she can’t help, I’ll apply for American citizenship. I should be eligible by now, right?” The moment she’d opened the email, she’d felt like the floor had collapsed beneath her, like the small window to the blurred lines of white and blue outside had broken and sucked her outside.
He looked at her over his shoulder then. “You sure that’ll do it?” His eyes were darker in the dim light of their quarters and the doubt she saw in them mirrored her own.
Alex shrugged. “Might take a while, but I really can’t think of anything else.” She wasn’t vital to the Atlantis expedition, she knew that. There were other archaeologists there, and she was familiar with the SGC. Why the IOA had chosen her was obvious, but the injustice of it made her sick. “I’m sorry.”
With a scoff, he sat up and wrapped her in his arms. His skin was cool from the dried sweat and the shirt was still damp. She didn’t care. Her skin must be just as sticky as his. “It’ll be okay,” he muttered against he skin. “We beat the system once before, didn’t we?”
Yes, they had, but back then circumstances had been different. “I could always join the Air Force,” she attempted to joke.
His laugh hit her skin in short bursts as he chuckled. “You’re too old for that, Mrs Lorne.”
“Doctor Lorne,” she said, shaking her head and leaning back. She still liked the name. When they were off-world and wearing a wedding band was impossible, this was the only outward sign of who she was, of who they were. Husband and wife. For four years now, though their papers told a different story. “Maybe Oliver is going to have massive objections to me leaving.”
“You bet he will. So will Colonel Sheppard. You saved his life once, remember?”
“Absolutely,” Alex said quietly and shook her head. His eyes were so intense, so close to hers. “That splinter in his finger was brutal.”
“Could’ve killed him. And McKay had fainted.”
“Yes, that man can’t see blood.”
They just stared at each other. She couldn’t leave. Not now, not ever. It was just out of the question. “The IOA could fire me, if I don’t agree.” And then where would she be? She wouldn’t be allowed to remain on Atlantis then.
He nodded. “Let’s talk to Doctor Weir,” he whispered, tracing her jaw with the tip of his thumb. Evan just couldn’t imagine what life on Atlantis would be without her. It was one thing being stationed somewhere new or being off-world for a couple of days. They’d built a sort of life there, had made friends, had become familiar with their quarters and with each other in a foreign environment. Swallowing hard, he focused on the way her skin felt under his fingers. Still so smooth, still so perfect. Just like her lips. A bit too dry, perhaps, but perfect. Beating the system. That’s what they had to do. It couldn’t be too hard, could it? With colleagues like theirs? And the work she was doing there was important. He leaned in, gently touching his lips to hers. What happened next was out of his hands, but he could show her how much he wanted her to stay. Not that she didn’t already know that. What things would be like if she did get pregnant and had to leave, he couldn’t say, but at this instance, her having to leave wouldn’t be his fault.
She returned his kiss hesitantly, like she always did at first. She was a bit more reserved at first. Always. Like she was surprised that he was kissing her, that his mouth was on hers, gently begging for her lips to part. And then she became more confident, grabbing his shirt, pulling him closer. Her breath quickened at the same moment his hand slipped under her shirt and gently moved up to unclasp her bra, cup one of her breasts and stroke his thumb over the nipple. It felt so right in his hand and after years he was still surprised at how well it fit into his palm, how easy it was for him to get her to respond to him in this way. To get her to wrap her arms around him, pull him closer, brush her hand through his hair and greedily pull at his shirt, while her kiss claimed him. He took care to remove her glasses and put them on the nightstand before anything happened to them. It was just so damn hard to get a replacement when you were in another galaxy.
“Not what I had in mind, when we went in here,” she breathed, when they parted for a second to remove their shirts. The pieces of clothing landed unceremoniously on the floor.
“Ha!” Evan pushed her down, grabbed her wrists and pulled them over her head. “Do you even believe that yourself?”
She grinned up at him, her bottom lip between her teeth. His beautiful wife. The reason he’d nearly lost his mind several times over, but he still wouldn’t let her go. Even if she had to leave, this wouldn’t change. He’d always want her. Like this, her body pressed against his, her hips buckling encouragingly against his. He’d always want her witty remarks and her enthusiasm. Her courage. He needed her.
“Come on, Major, let’s stop talking,” she said, faking an American accent, making him laugh, despite himself.
“Hey!” she laughed, her arms struggling ever so slightly against his hold of them. “You’re making fun of me.”
“You’re making fun of me, Doc,” he laughed, moving into her again, kissing her, wanting desperately to feel her teeth on his bottom lip. And there it was. Grinning into the kiss, he released her and put his arm under her head to have her closer. Her leg wrapped around his hips, forcing him to turn over and lie on his back, his mouth was claimed by hers before he knew it. But even before she straddled him, he felt that his pants were too tight. She got him to this point far too easily and far too quickly. It was just how things were with them, and he’d never thought he’d still want her like this after years of being so familiar with her.
The rest of their clothes joined the shirts quickly enough, their shoes hitting the floor with soft thuds, before she was on top of him again, her nipple between his lips, his right hand gliding up her back, while his left hand was exploring the familiar, hotness between her legs, as she reached for the nightstand to grab one of the small square packages. She paused just for a brief moment, staring into his eyes, already breathless. One look, one question. He nodded. Yes, he hadn’t changed his mind, especially not now. Not now that they didn’t know what was going to happen to them.
Now was just not the right time. She nodded in turn and ripped the plastic open.
His head was nestled against her shoulder, his hand on her heaving chest. “You know,” he said, his breath hot against her skin as that incredible smell of him enveloped her. “I was planning this crazy romantic dinner in Trier.”
She would’ve laughed, hadn’t it been for the sad look in his eyes. His lashes were so long, she could almost envy him. “You did?”
“Yep… I haven’t cooked for you in a while.”
“Not true, you cooked all the time when we were home.”
“Yeah, but nothing nice. I mean, on our honeymoon I wanted to make something nice. And I never did that.”
“Should we really call that a honeymoon?”
Evan sighed and pulled her closer, his index circling her belly button. The stretch marks were still there, always would be, a constant reminder of Larsa and of Nora, but he left those alone. He always did. “I don’t know… can you have a honeymoon if there was no real wedding?”
“I never thought you wanted one.”
“Well, I did. When we first met, but things just overtook us and it was fine and I’m still glad we got married, officially married, when we did, but… well.” He shrugged. “Seeing those wedding pictures of Ellen and Roger, of my parents… “
She grabbed his hand. “What are you saying? You want to do it again?”
“No,” he rested his chin on her shoulder and kissed her cheek. “No, things are perfect the way they are right now. I was just thinking, maybe we just didn’t deserve a honeymoon. You know, without inviting three billion people and spending a trillion dollars first.”
“Maybe. But we deserved a holiday, wouldn’t you agree?”
Evan scoffed and nodded. “Well… we had that drive from Frankfurt to Siegen and that hike? That’s something?”
Evan was leaning against a pillar, looking out over the ocean. At the bluish green of the water, the rippling glare of the sunlight on it, the way the city beneath them looked almost pink in the setting sun. Somewhere behind him in the mess hall, the laughter of Sheppard and his team rang out to him. A second McKay had turned up through the McKay-siblings’ experiment. Really, the weirdest things happened in this place, without too many people losing their heads over it. Not that he cared. Not right now. Two McKays could only keep each other busy and annoy fewer people. Evan sighed. No, he was being unfair. McKay was an okay guy, really. If you took care not to take in too much of him at once.
After that meeting with Weir, Alex had gone back to her lab, while he had to introduce the new marines to their new surroundings. Work had claimed them as soon as they landed again. Not that he was surprised, and he was glad to have something to do again. He only wished there was something he could do to help Alex.
From the corner of his eye he watched Doctor Beckett walk into the mess hall and take a short look and then, after a short contemplation walk towards him. “Not in the mood for dinner, Major Lorne?”
Shaking his head, Evan scratched his cheek. “Not really. Just grabbed a cup of coffee.”
Evan shrugged and nodded. He hadn’t really slept, but coffee would have to do. It usually did the job just fine. “You?”
“Of sorts, I still have some work to do.” Beckett leaned against the railing next to him. “Which is why I’ve come to talk to you, actually.”
“Oh?” Evan raised his eyebrows at him. “Something wrong?”
“I’d have asked you to come see me officially if there was, right?”
“Probably. Though I have to admit this is a bit weird. Unusual?”
Beckett pulled a face. The man was okay, really, and Evan hadn’t just grown used to him. He’d grown to like him. Beckett might appear a bit chaotic in the field, but he was competent and funny if he wanted to be. “This is off the record, I’m not even sure I’m supposed to tell you.”
“Huh.” Now that sounded ominous, and the way Beckett didn’t look at him, but kept his eyes fixed on McKay Number Two, made Evan’s insides churn. “Anything I can help you with?”
“No… but the Air Force sent some genetic material for me to analyse along on the Daedalus.”
There it was again. Just when Evan thought this case was more or less closed, it opened up again. “Tissue sample?” Evan asked, rubbing his temple. “Of what?” That last word stung just hearing it.
“They wouldn’t say, but that alone made me think I should probably let you know. Just in case.”
Evan nodded. “Thanks,” he said hoarsely. “Do you think it could be… her?”
“Can’t be sure, Major,” Beckett said quietly, almost whispering. “I haven’t come around to do a proper analysis. The Air Force just doesn’t do this normally, and it only makes sense that it may have something to do with your daughter, since-“ he broke off and shook his head. “I’m sorry. Wish I had better news for you.”
“There’s no such thing as good news about our daughter.” He swallowed hard and shrugged, fighting back the urge to storm off there and then. Taking a deep breath, he wiped his hand over his forehead. By now they should be allowed to move on, but that would never happen. At least that’s what he was close to believing by now. “You know,” he muttered, taking another deep breath, “We were talking about trying again. Maybe… but.” He bit his lip and shook his head. “There’s- every time I think we can move on, something else turns up.”
Why was he even telling Beckett? If anything he should be consulting with Doctor Heightmeyer about this. She asked about Nora on a regular basis, and he usually answered curtly, defensively. He knew it wasn’t healthy… but Beckett… he’d been there for the whole thing. And Beckett had almost become a friend these past few months. Almost. Or maybe Evan had just been glad to spot another familiar face in this mass of strangers. Anyway, talking to Beckett didn’t feel wrong, and that had to mean something.
“I’m not a dad, Major,” Beckett said, “but you know, keeping on living doesn’t mean you forget the person you lost.”
“Yes, well…” Were they being cowards? Or just too cautious? The only thing he knew was that he wasn’t ready for this yet. Well, they hadn’t been ready for Nora either, but that had been different. Nora had just… happened. And they’d dealt with it as best they could. With near-devastating results. “That’s not really in the cards at the moment. Alex might have to go back to Earth.”
“That European team at the SGC?” Beckett nodded. “I heard they wanted to form one. They asked Doctor Chenot to go back as well. He told me earlier today. But he’s looking forward to it.”
“What’s Chenot’s job here?”
“Astrophysicist. Doesn’t get along too well with Rodney, can you imagine?” The smirk on Beckett’s face would’ve made Evan laugh, hadn’t he felt sick to his stomach.
“Alex doesn’t want to go,” Evan said, “But we had a short talk with Doctor Weir this morning. We’ll just keep the wheels of bureaucracy working for as long as we can.”
“And then? Are you going to request to be transferred back?
Evan huffed and shook his head. “No chance it’ll work. I mean, I’m sure there must be a billion people hoping to get this job, but- well. I’m stationed here and, to be frank, I’m good at what I’m doing here.” A transfer might be granted eventually, though. Who could say? They’d just be back at the SGC, carry on life like they always had. Would that be so bad? “We’ll see what happens.”
Her head was pounding. And the bright light from her desk wasn’t helping. Really, reading from paper was so much more comfortable. How could she have ever wished for reports and books to be fully digitized? This was crazy. Well, it was easier to just carry that tablet, but books, real books, were just easier to read.
Alex let the pen fall and shook out her hand. Her eyes were burning. High time to call it a night. Anna had left the neighbouring lab an hour ago to meet Oliver at the gym. Why she’d taken one of the bars of chocolate, or why she’d left this late, Anna hadn’t said, but Alex could guess. Anna had been talking non-stop about Oliver since Alex had stepped into the office, and Alex had been too happy to listen to the constant chatter rather than let her mind dwell on the idea that she might have to leave soon. Weir had set the date for their departure for Athos so, that she wouldn’t be here for the next databurst. Her application for American citizenship would go out, along with Weir’s request for letting Alex stay here.
One look at her watch told her, that it was already past midnight. No wonder she was dead on her feet. No wonder she couldn’t cram any more information from recent mission reports into her brain. She’d tried to stay up-to-date with goings-on in the Milky Way, but the way things were looking, she’d be going back there, so she might as well familiarize herself with the news. And she had to admit, the threat the Ori posed was even more disturbing after what she’d read. Why was it that things never, never calmed down enough for them all to take a really deep breath and just keep exploring without the constant threat of replicating, God-impersonating or live-sucking aliens?
Taking off her glasses and the headphones, Alex rubbed her eyes and sent the message with he attached file to Chuck, so he’d send it out with the next data burst. Her application for American citizenship should’ve been easier to fill out. But it really hadn’t been. For one, she had to start the whole process digitally, with a special request to the Air Force to process the papers, since she couldn’t very well do that from here, but that wasn’t the only reason. She hadn’t been to the UK in a long time, she hadn’t called that place home in over a decade, but still. Thinking about giving up something that tied her to her mother and brother, was harder than she would’ve thought, even if it was such an unimportant thing as a passport. The problem was that in this case it wasn’t just about a passport or about which flag was on her uniform. This was about where she would be working from now on. And the American flag would give her the assurance that at least she could stay here for as long as Evan did.
Alex got up and turned off the lights. Outside in the corridor she watched two soldiers walk past. She remembered them from her last couple of weeks back at the SGC. They’d been new and had just been assigned to SG-teams, before they were sent out here. But they too appeared to have become more than familiar with this city. They nodded at her in greeting and kept walking through the empty corridors.
Evan was on the night shift, probably overseeing the city’s security from the control room and he wouldn’t be in their quarters for another couple of hours. In all likelihood, she wouldn’t see him until lunch the next day. And it wasn’t as though she couldn’t survive without him, or not fall asleep without his body next to hers, she was just terrified of what might happen to them as a couple if they were separated by billions of lightyears for an indefinite time period.
Looking up at one of the countless security cameras, she smiled, just for the off-chance of him seeing her. If he didn’t she’d at least shown the person watching the dozens of screens that they weren’t completely forgotten.
Alex was just leaving her lab. God, he really needed to talk to her, tell her what Beckett had said. Or should he? What if that tissue sample wasn’t Nora’s? And what if it was? What if it was and they never found out where it came from? And what if they had found a clone? What if they had, and never said so? His insides churned just thinking about it. He couldn’t believe he almost hoped they hadn’t found her. Did that make him a terrible person? Probably.
She’d depart for Athos in two days with Murdoch and he’d better talk to her before then. The mission itself had been postponed for as long as it took Halling to return from a trading trip and for Alex to get back to Atlantis. Murdoch’s team would just do a quick recon, figure out if there really was anything worth studying in those ruins. Not a big mission, or a long one, but she’d be gone for a couple of days. That had happened less frequently, since they’d come here to Pegasus. Archaeology wasn’t this expedition’s main priority. Probably because Jackson was less involved here
She looked up at the camera with a half-hearted smile, making Evan grin despite his dark thoughts. He almost regretted not asking Doctor Weir to allow Alex to remain on his team. Of course working in such close proximity with his wife all the time was probably a terrible idea, but he rather missed the work she did. It was almost like meditating, clearing away dirt like that, but then there was that thrill on her face when she discovered a new shard or another object which he would simply have described as trash.
Maybe, one of these days, he’d get to go off-world with her again, assisting her on another dig. But then again, he’d be okay for Murdoch’s team to accompany his own team on another mission. Maybe. If Alex wasn’t called back before then.
“Wow!” The technician to his right exclaimed, making Evan whirl around, the image of Alex walking towards the transport all but forgotten.
“What is it?” Evan asked, eyes darting to the monitor in front of the technician, who just turned it off before Evan could see anything.
The young woman was blushing dark red. She was new. The one he and Alex had met on the Daedalus. She must be helping out down here. And he really needed to learn her name.
“What?” Evan asked, but the woman shook her head.
Evan scoffed, turned the monitor back on and then off again, after just a brief look. “Good call. Let’s give them some privacy.” He cleared his head.
“Maybe we should think about putting up signs reminding people of the cameras?”
Letting out a brief laugh, Evan shook his head. Murdoch should know where the cameras were, but apparently Anna Schäfer’s company had driven that clear out of his mind. “Maybe. Just forget what you saw Lieutenant.”
They emerged from the early evening on Atlantis into mid-morning of Athos and Alex cloaked the Jumper as soon as they passed through the event-horizon on the other side. She was the only one with the ATA gene on Oliver’s team, and she was good enough at flying this thing, but she’d never be as good a pilot as the Air Force pilots were. Luckily these things were intuitive enough for her to master the basics.
Oliver was sitting in the passenger seat, going over the scans in front of them as she steered the ship towards the ruins of the Ancient Outpost. She’d never been here. Nobody, apart from the initial team who’d come through the Gate here looking for shelter, had. At least not from their expedition. Some Athosians had returned at some point, to collect mementoes and supplies which they’d left behind, but the camp lay derelict and abandoned at their feet, about two hours’ walk away from the ruins they were heading for. Luckily the distance could be covered quickly enough by Jumper.
Oliver Murdoch had grown into his role as team leader quite quickly. Most people on Atlantis did. The military personnel wasn’t led by a General and the new orders from Washington or any other military board of leaders only arrived here with significant delay. It made things a lot easier for most people to grow into their roles. At least that was Alex’s opinion. Evan would probably tell a completely different story. About survival and team-play. Not that he was wrong. It was just a different perspective on the same phenomenon.
“I can’t see anything special, to be honest,” Oliver said, looking over his shoulder at Doctor de Clare and Lieutenant Fisherman. “Can you tell me anything interesting, Lieutenant?”
De Clare shrugged, looking at his laptop and the readouts there. He was the oldest member of McKay’s science team, about fifty, and he’d gladly joined the Atlantis expedition the moment Weir had offered him the position. He was no brilliant scientist, but he was a thorough one, and most reliable. Even McKay respected him for that, or so Alex had heard tell. He accompanied them on a mission every once in a while, and his calming presence was more than welcome here. Fisherman was still a bit jittery. He’d come here about half a year ago, and this had been his first assignment in the Stargate Program.
“Not really. No energy signatures of any kind. Maybe we should just land and take a look around?” De Clare seemed enthusiastic, the way he usually did, when a walk in the woods was at hand. He loved hiking, and when he heard about where Alex and Evan had been for their interrupted honeymoon, he'd immediately started talking about all the magnificent hikes he’d been on.
“That’s the plan,” Alex said, starting to set down in a wide open space. Evan would probably have been able to land the Jumper closer to the first few ruins, but she was still a bit insecure about the size of the ship and finding a good spot. Luckily nobody complained.
“Should be close enough.”
Halling hadn’t said a word from the moment they stepped into the Jumper. Since Teyla was preoccupied in Atlantis, Halling had been asked to accompany them to Athos. He, like most Athosians, hadn’t been here in a while and returning must be painful. Their home had been wiped out by the Wraith, and from what Alex had heard, it was the Athosians’ firm belief that entering the Ancient City would bring the Wraith down on them, and Halling had always been more cautious about folk tales and beliefs which had been passed down for generations than Teyla.
Alex set down the Jumper. “Thank you for accompanying us,” she said, when the ramp at the back of the Jumper had been opened. Her backpack wasn’t as heavy as it used to be, since she only had to carry her tablet in addition to her tools. That had to be the one most important point in favour to electronics.
Halling looked at her, his face set. “Teyla asked me to. And she assured me you value spiritual beliefs.” He looked over his shoulder at the two soldiers and the other scientist, who were already outside, securing their guns. And this was what this was about: documenting what the Athosians believed in, so it would never be forgotten.
Forcing a smile, Alex nodded. “I don’t belief in anything, to be honest,” she said. Not anymore. She couldn’t bring herself to even think about believing in a higher power. “But I study religions and belief systems, yes. And I assure you, that my colleagues will respect whichever boundaries you set.” Oliver would make sure of that. She’d been working with him long enough to know that he, unlike that Colonel with whom they’d been in Gizeh, wouldn’t break open an ancient jar just to find out what was inside.
The nod from Halling was all she needed right now. Strapping her own P-90 to her chest, she followed Oliver and the others outside. She had to admit, using a Jumper to get to destinations on another planet, was easier than having to walk everywhere all the time. The Ancients surely knew a thing or two about convenience and comfort.
Halling was taking the lead and Alex was walking next to him, doing her best to ignore Fisherman’s attempts to get de Clare to talk about football. De Clare had played as a youngster and still refused to call the sport soccer. Not that Alex couldn’t understand him. Football would never be soccer to her.
“I really don’t want to talk about it,” de Clare muttered behind her. She’d watched the final game of the world cup along with a couple of other Europeans and she had to admit she’d been grateful when England had been kicked out in the quarter final. This excitement at the end of a tournament like that was unbearable. And de Clare had been as white as a sheet the whole time. Getting recordings of games like these was almost as devastating as watching the thing in real-time.
“Wouldn’t you say that re-introducing the golden goal would make things a lot more exciting?” Fisherman insisted.
“The penalty shoot-out was plenty exciting for me, thank you.” De Clare said drily and Alex caught Oliver’s grin.
“Let him be, Fisherman, this whole ordeal was heart-breaking enough as it was,” he said. Especially so, since the only Italian member of the expedition had left to go home the week before the world-cup final, and there’d been nobody to celebrate the end of the world-cup with.
“What’s football?” Halling asked.
“It’s soccer,” Fisherman and Oliver said in unison, making Alex shake her head.
“It’s football,” Alex shook her head. Yes, that was certainly going to make things difficult if and when her application came through. Did she have to change her vocabulary along with the flag on her arm? No, that would’ve been too much to ask. “And it’s a very popular game on Earth and a lot of nations have very good players,” she grinned at Oliver, who just rolled his eyes. “And in some countries it’s called soccer, in others it’s called football, but the Americans have a really weird take on that term.”
“You’re not a linguist, so please stop elaborating,” Fisherman sighed, making Alex grin.
“Are you saying a girl can’t talk about sports, Fisherman?”
Fisherman blanched and stared at her, his mouth wide open.
“Well?” Oliver turned around and looked at him inquiringly, walking backwards. “Are you being a sexist jerk?”
“No!” Fisherman exclaimed. “My sister plays soccer like a pro! Just saying…”
“Saying what exactly?”
Alex bit her lip. She knew she’d brought Fisherman into a tight squeeze and the young Lieutenant was anything but a sexist jerk, really. But he was terrified of what Evan, her husband and his superior officer would say, if he got wind an accusation like this.
“Just saying that the argument about the term is bullshit, Sir.”
“Can we live with that, Alex?”
“I guess we can,” she said, hurrying up to catch up with Halling. “So,” she said, looking back at Oliver and Fisherman who were talking quietly amongst themselves, “I read a couple of things about Athos,” she began as they were walking along the first row of torn-down walls, the very existence of which suggested a different period than the tall metal tower several hundred feet ahead of them. “But what can you tell me?”
Halling raised an eyebrow. “You’ve read a couple of things?” he echoed.
“Teyla helped expanding the data base a couple of years ago,” she explained. “But I guess she just became too busy and sort of stopped? Also, it’s always more educating to hear from someone who is really familiar with the history of a place. Who better to ask than you?”
He still hadn’t talked to her. Somehow bringing this up right now was hard. Harder than he would’ve thought possible. Well, no, it wasn’t that he hadn’t talked to her, he had, he just hadn’t told her about what Beckett had said, and since Beckett hadn’t approached him again, he could only hope that it’d been false alarm. If it wasn’t, she’d be mad at him. And for good reason.
He watched the Gate shut down behind them and nodded at Chuck. Menard and Woeste had both come with him to Pegasus and they, along with the newest addition, a young Turkish officer, were on their way off-world. Just a standard recon to an unusual place. On most worlds he’d been to, the Stargate was located several clicks away from the nearest settlement at least, which wasn’t the stupidest thing to do. Building a town around a Stargate meant bringing everybody close-by in danger of being killed by the unstable vortex jumping out of the event horizon as the wormhole was formed. But who was he to judge?
Evan looked at his team. Lieutenant Asim Nabi had joined their team after his own arrival in Pegasus, but he’d been here longer than the rest of the team. He was still the new guy in some ways however. Evan, Woeste and Menard had known each other for years and of course that had made it harder on Nabi. But Nabi was a good guy, and more than reliable in battle. And he looked more comfortable in their team now than he had in the beginning. Still, Evan wished Alex were still here. She would’ve loved to explore the world they were about to embark on.
The wormhole behind them engaged and the event horizon started shimmering behind the see-through shield. “Let’s move out,” Evan said, straightening his back before stepping through the deep blue.
They’d been in brief contact with the people of this world, and things looked safe enough. Still, he was glad he’d left a message for Alex in their quarters. It was lying on her pillow, and the note she’d left him was still on his night-stand. Just in case anything ever happened to either of them, they’d started this tradition of leaving each other messages in their quarters. Life was too fickle to just leave without the chance of leaving a last goodbye. Upon returning, they usually ripped up the letters and then wrote a new one for the next mission, because there was always something else to say, something else to add, though in general his messages to her hadn’t changed that much. Only that this time he’d left a confession.
“What do you want to know, Doctor?”
“Hm…” Alex tapped her chin and looked up at the columns they were passing now on the way to the centre of the abandoned ruins. She should be taking notes, she knew, but there really was no way to do that right now. “Do you mind if I use my camera to record your voice while we talk?”
Halling shook his head. “Go ahead.”
“Alright,” Alex muttered, setting the small hand-held camera to record. She’d have to transcribe what Halling was saying later on. She trained the camera on the massive metal tower in the centre of the ruins. It was the only structure which looked more or less intact outwardly. That was, if you ignored the plants crawling up its sides. “Teyla wrote that the Athosians believe entering the city would bring the Wraith here?”
“Yes,” Halling said quietly, while de Clare started walking around with his sensor. “This place did not bring luck to our people. The Wraith culled on us several times, but the biggest holocaust happened here, many, many generations ago.” He cleared his throat and approached the tower. Would they enter? Or would they stay away from it? She wished she could go inside. The structure itself looked Lantean, alright, but unlike the spires of Atlantis, only the outside appeared to be clad in metal. Here and there bits of metal had broken away from the spire and she spotted a few stretches of stone wall underneath. “The Ancestors did not protect them and many believe that allowing the Wraith to destroy the civilization we built in the centre of the city, was because we dared to build on top of their buildings.” Halling shrugged and Alex took care not to have him in the picture. He hadn’t agreed to that. “Teyla spoke of caves where you sought refuge from the Wraith?”
“Yes.” Halling’s eyes were trained on the central spire, though his lips set into a firm line. “Yes, they lead underneath that tower. We used to hide there. Many, many generations did. Sometimes for days on end. Would you like to see the drawings there?”
Alex nodded. “If you don’t mind?”
“Of course. But we cannot enter the tower.”
She’d almost expected him to say that. “You know,” she said, “on Earth there’s a hill on which some monks built a monastery about a thousand years ago. They worship and live there, have done for over a millennium.”
“What are you saying, Doctor?” Halling asked, starting off to their right, past more overgrown rubble and half-buried walls. If there was anything to salvage, then the Athosians must have already taken it from the surface at least. But this place was sacred to them, and indeed, it did feel like a graveyard. Like it had been plundered and at the same time left intact. A few Ancient building structures were still standing, but the additions by Athosians had made, were mostly gone. Like they wanted desperately to get rid of the traces of their sacrilege. She couldn’t help but wonder what Evan would make of these ruins. He’d surely love to draw them at some point. Over the past year he’d become almost obsessed with the architecture of Atlantis, painting it from different angles, at different times of day. What he’d do with all these pieces of art one day, was a question she never posed.
“That place is called Athos as well,” she said, “It’s a place in Greece. We believe the Ancients played a big part in inspiring ancient Greek culture, or even in sowing the seeds of their culture. Many of the old languages on Earth originate from Ancient.”
“And you believe there might be a connection between that place and our world?” Halling asked, with a raised eyebrow at him.
Alex shrugged. “Why not? I mean, of course the Ancients left this galaxy a long, long time ago, but we know that some Ancients who ascended came back at some point to influence a culture here or there.” Who could tell, really? But maybe they’d find a clue or two concerning that connection here?
They were close to one of the massive stone walls, part of a massive hill stretching up into the sky and which trailed along one side of the city. They were in front a partly hidden mine shaft. Really, if Halling hadn’t been heading that way, she never would’ve found it. “Is that it?” she asked, taking out her flashlight. The rest of her team were still walking through the ruins, but Oliver had watched them walk off. He waved at her briefly to acknowledge her. There wasn’t a whole lot the others could do in those catacombs, she knew.
Halling nodded. “This place was a sanctuary to us very many times. Sometimes for days. The drawings in there tell our story like nothing else. There’s a mechanism on the inside, which seals the entrance.”
“Time to get to work, then.” She smiled at him encouragingly. God, she hoped she could actually finish the work she was starting here. She really didn’t want to abandon her work like this.
Nabi was downright smitten with the village-elder. Evan could tell from the way he gazed at her, but he didn’t comment. Ronda was pretty, that much was certain, and she was friendly. She led them through their village, her dark hair trailing behind her like a veil.
“We were happy to receive your message,” she said, leading them through a heavily populated street with shops on either side. The street was paved and in an almost perfect condition. Evan couldn’t help but wonder where these peoples’ wealth came from. The clothes of everybody they passed were clean and there weren’t any patches on any piece of cloth to cover up a tear. From experience he knew how hard it was to keep clothes in such a good state of repair. He remembered Alex’s curses at trying to sew him a new shirt, and her raw hands after a day spent at doing the laundry.
“You seem to be magnificent tradespeople,” Woeste said appreciatively.
Suck-up, Evan thought, following Ronda towards the other end of the road and the magnificent stone structure towering over the rest of the houses of town, which was encircled by a massive wall of dark-grey stone. Really unusual, especially here in the Pegasus galaxy, where people needed to run and hide fairly quickly all the time. The walls should’ve given him a sense of security, but he couldn’t help but throw a cautious glance at Nabi. He needed all of them alert.
“We trade with many worlds,” Ronda said smiling. “Let us eat and discuss how our two people can enter a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Evan bit his lips. “We’re not really negotiators,” he said, unable to shake the feeling that coming here might have been a big mistake. But if they played it cool, they could very well just go home and forget this place existed. But of course Sheppard would demand an explanation for their sudden departure, and a gut-feeling probably wouldn’t be a good enough reason. “We’re just here to say hi, really.”
“Your message said you were explorers,” Ronda said. In the dim light of the entrance hall, Evan saw that her eyes were almost purple. The things you saw when going through the Gate really were astonishing, he thought, reminding himself that he had to focus on the structure of the building they were in now, on how many guards were stationed at the doors, not on the architectural merits.
“We are,” he said, making sure that Nabi, Woeste and Menard were on full-alert without drawing too much attention to themselves. “But we’re always looking for new trade partners, of course. We’re especially famous for our casa, actually,” he improvised, remembering the plant which an alliance of thugs had started spreading through the Milky Way as he counted the guards in the entrance hall. Ten. Not particularly good odds if things went south.
“A vegetable,” he lied, “Very nutritious, very tasty.”
“Hm…”, Ronda said, leading them through a massive door on the other side of the hall, where a long table had been set for them. Dishes upon dishes, all of them vegetables by the looks of it, had been set up there, and Evan only hoped that none of his men would take a bite. Probably not. They knew well enough not to take food from alien races. That protocol had been in place for months. He just couldn’t help himself. These people were too wealthy, this place too much intact for a world in the Pegasus Galaxy. Not that every people they met were poor, far from it, but these guys just were too prosperous and not enough afraid of the potential dangers a Stargate in the middle of a settlement held. “Who do you trade with?” she asked.
“Several worlds,” Evan said evasively, taking the seat which was offered to him. “You’ll forgive me for not wanting to reveal our sources. Like I said, we’re not negotiators.”
“You say, you deal in plants?”
Menard shrugged, sitting down next to Evan. “Most of the time, yes. And of course we’re very interested in different cultures.” He cleared his throat. “Your town is very beautiful.”
Nabi nodded. “We’ve been to several worlds,” he said, leaning on the back of his chair, while Ronda walked to the head of the table, her eyes fixed on him. “None of them had a Stargate in the centre of their town.”
Ronda’s eyebrow twitched up. “You haven’t?” she asked. “Most places we trade with do.”
“Aren’t you afraid of the Wraith?” Woeste asked, making Evan’s stomach plummet. He’d been wondering the same thing, but he’d never dared ask that question.
She shook her head. “The Wraith do not come here. Not usually.”
Sorry for the delay and sorry for the cliffhanger! :-D Let me know your thoughts!
So here's the second half of this bit. It was just too much to fit it all into one chapter, so I decided to split the chapters. Have fun!
After about an hour, Oliver, de Clare and Fisherman joined them in the catacombs. De Clare had, apparently, found nothing, which shouldn’t come as a big surprise, since the city had been levelled by the Wraith hundreds of years ago, and why would they leave any usable technology behind? The only place that might be worth a look in that respect was the central spire, which was bound to have been sealed up by the Ancients. And they couldn’t go there out of respect to the Athosians. Of course de Clare was disappointed.
Alex looked up from the notes she’d resorted to taking while talking to Halling. She’d taken pictures of the drawings in the chambers where Halling had taken her. There must be hundreds of chambers more, a city underneath a city. For now she had no clue as to what the Ancients had done here, and they weren’t her main focus anyway. What she cared about for now was Athosian history and Halling’s re-telling of it. But as Oliver, de Clare and Fisherman sat down next to them, looking up at the drawings and listening to Halling, Alex felt a twinge of caution. Shaking her head, she turned off the recording device and looked at Halling.
“Thank you,” she said, taking a deep breath. “I-“ she licked her lips and stretched. She’d been sitting here with her legs folded underneath her for the better part of an hour and her neck was starting to stiffen.
“What is it?” Oliver frowned down at her, the exact same look on his face as Halling.
“I’m just… I’m wondering if what we’re doing here is right.” Her teammates had been listening to Halling, enthralled by the stories he was telling. But that was just the thing. Halling was telling these stories.
“Wasn’t that the purpose of us coming here?”
Alex swallowed her and looked at Halling apologetically. “Yes, of course. And I still believe it’s right that the research here is important, but… do you have any written records of your history? Of your stories?”
Shaking his head, Halling looked up at the drawings. “These are the oldest records we have. And they, along with the stories we tell, have been passed down from generation to generation.”
“Right.” Alex got to her feet, leaving her notebook on the ground. “And that’s the whole point.”
By the way Fisherman was looking at her and the soft smile was starting to spread on Halling’s lips Alex could tell that she was making the right call. “The moment people start recording the stories of a certain faith, they start changing the religion. It’s happened to nearly every big religion we have on Earth. And if I start recording this one orally told story, I’m going to change something. I’m not sure I’m the right person to do that.” She sighed and scratched her head.
“Huh…” Oliver said, leaning back. “So, you’re not gonna write anything down?”
Alex bit her lip and shook her head. “We’re approaching this thing all wrong,” she said, looking at Halling with a shrug. “I’m sorry but putting things in writing will set things. If somebody in a hundred years or so looks at my notes, they will believe that yours is the only view on your stories.” The Ancients, or Ancestors, as the people of the Pegasus Galaxy called them, played a big role in them, but she remembered the Book of Origin. She’d started reading it a couple of months ago, and sitting here, writing things down held so many dangers that she was terrified just looking at the pen and paper on the ground. Swallowing hard, she shook her head. The Ori had been Ancients and they’d started abusing their powers with the help of a book they’d written. She wasn’t going to be the one responsible for a fundamentalist take on the Ancients, even if it was just by accident.
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that it’s not my business to do the recording of their stories. I don’t want to cause more harm than good. Halling, would it be alright, if I just took pictures?”
“What do you mean, they don’t usually come here?” Evan asked. Really, coming here had to have been a big mistake. “They don’t know you’re here?” Please, let them have some kind of cloak or shield. Please, please, please.
“They know,” she said. The door leading into the entrance hall was still wide open and Evan could see the guards still standing there, rigid and unmoving. Please, don’t let this be another Replicator planet. “But we trade with them on another planet. They seldom honour us with their presence.”
Nabi’s eyes narrowed and Evan sensed the tension in the Lieutenant’s body from where he was sitting. He wasn’t entirely wrong. It was high time they left. “You’re Wraith Worshippers?”
“If that is what you want to call us, yes.” Ronda raised her eyebrows at them and smiled, her white teeth flashing in the bright sunlight streaming in through the window. “But you could also say that we have a special arrangement with them. And, to be perfectly frank, your equipment would suggest that you would benefit from an arrangement like ours as well.”
His mouth was so dry he could barely bring himself to speak. He'd never heard of Wraith Worshippers openly declaring their allegiance like this. More often than not, Worshippers were attacked and killed by other humans, or at least shunned from human society. This, this was different. And the openness with which she talked about it suggested that she was confident enough in her world's capability to defend themselves against a sudden attack from the outside. The question was how to get out of this one alive. “What do you mean?” he asked, putting all the authority he could muster into his voice, when all he wanted to do was reach for his gun.
“I'm going to make you an offer and you can take it to your people,” Ronda said, sitting down in the elaborately carved chair heading the table. “What we do is take care of the Wraiths’ herd. We take them to designated places when the Wraith tell us to. You appear to be well equipped for that sort of work. If you’re interested, come back here tomorrow. If not, we will follow you. We have allies. Plenty of them. Do you understand my meaning?”
There wasn’t a whole lot to misunderstand. They were shepherds of sorts. Or what they would call shepherds, when in reality they were just opportunists.
“Your wealth is based on that trade?” Woeste asked with a frown and Evan could’ve kicked him. The last thing they should do right now is antagonize these people.
Ronda smiled happily and put her feet up on the table. “There are plenty of Wraith out there. Plenty of hives to serve. It’s not a terrible arrangement.”
When Alex and her team returned from their mission, Alex only stopped long enough for Oliver, de Clare and Fisherman to get out of the Jumper, before heading back to the mainland to drop off Halling.
Her mind was racing. She’d have to set up a meeting with Anna and talk their plan over. It was one thing to gather as much information as possible about civilizations which had been lost to the Wraith, to record what they could, but a completely different thing to record from cultures which were thriving. They had to find another way, or they could easily become much more than just researchers. And they couldn’t just ask the Athosians or any other culture to start preserving their stories the way the people from Earth did.
Luckily, Halling hadn’t been angry, and he didn’t think his time had been wasted by Alex and her team. In fact, he appeared to be fascinated by the horrors Alex told him about theological disputes on Earth and how writing could influence things for better or worse. The Athosians had their own writing, their own letters, their own language, though they stuck to the Common Tongue more often than not, but they rarely recorded stories. Having been nomads for countless generations, this came as no surprise, but she could see that she’d gotten him thinking. What that might result in, she couldn’t say yet, though.
Setting down the ship in the Jumper Bay after a seemingly endless day, she shouldered her backpack again and smiled at Zelenka, who would check the ship over, like they did after every trip. “Hey,” she greeted him, as he approached the ship, tablet in hand. “Anything interesting happen while I was gone?” What she meant was, had the data exchange already happened? Zelenka had no idea about her orders, but it didn’t hurt to ask.
He shrugged and sighed. “Don’t get me started,” he mumbled.
“What?” She stood still and watched him as he walked past her to attach the tablet to the outlet in the cargo area.
“We depleted the ZPM.”
Alex froze. “I’m sorry, what?” The Zero Point Module, which she and her team had dug up in Giza had been fully charged, when it’d been brought to Atlantis over a year ago.
Shaking his head, Zelenka looked at her and when their eyes met, she saw realization dawning on him. “You found it, didn’t you?”
“Yes. What happened?” There were no signs of battle anywhere, no attempt to contact them.
“Let’s just say the experiment which McKay and his sister were conducting failed. We had to deplete the Zero Point Module to save two universes.” The unhappy smile on Zelenka’s face made her heart plummet. Weeks of digging in the glaring sun of Egypt wasted in a single day. She swallowed hard and nodded. Well, it had never been her call of how the ZPM would be used, but to have the energy wasted on an experiment was devastating.
“Huh,” she breathed. Evan, Oliver, Menard and everyone else involved in that dig wouldn’t be happy either. On the other hand, it meant that the next message from Chapman wouldn’t reach her until the next shipment of supplies arrived on the Daedalus. “Was the data burst sent out before the ZPM was depleted?” she asked and Zelenka nodded. The Daedalus was still here and by the looks of it wouldn’t be returning to Earth for another couple of days. So she still had some time here at least. That was something. And there really wasn’t anything she or anybody else on Atlantis could do to get them access to more power. “Two McKays couldn’t solve the problem, then?”
Zelenka laughed mirthlessly. “We managed to send Rod back. The- the other McKay that is.” Shaking his head, he looked back on his tablet and started running a diagnostic. “And if you ask me, one is enough for each universe.”
She still had no idea what exactly that experiment had been about, but the fact that a second McKay, one who was more sociable and somehow less likeable than their own, had been here, had been more than strange in itself. But then again, weird things happened here every day.
“Okay…” She forced herself to smile. She was just tired. And this wasn’t the ideal end of a workday. “Thanks for the info, though.” She just wanted to go to her quarters, take a shower and talk things over with Anna. Evan should be back in a couple of hours, too, and they still had to finish reading that last Harry Potter book they’d brought back from Earth. Book deliveries to Pegasus took forever, so sometimes it was better to just bring them yourself. “Have a nice evening.”
“Thank you! You, too.”
The debriefing wouldn’t be until the next morning, which would give her plenty of time to talk to her teammates as well. De Clare had been obviously disappointed that they hadn’t found anything for him to study, but he hadn’t voiced that complain. Fisherman had spent the journey back looking glumly at the pictures she’d taken. Not all missions were pure excitement for everyone and that really wasn’t why they were here.
What needed to be done now was to set up an archaeological and anthropological team to catalogue the drawings and artefacts which could still be found on Athos. That was all they could do anyway, she was sure of it. The things which had already been written down or drawn could be saved digitally. Everything else would simply be too much for them. Too preposterous.
Walking down the stairs to the control room, she already started thinking of the report she would file. Better do that sooner rather than later. Maybe she’d even have it finished before Evan got back. He’d been on several night shifts since their return from Earth and they hadn’t had a proper evening, just the two of them.
Her eyes swept over the control room, over the technicians at their stations and Doctor Weir walking across the bridge into her office. Weir nodded at her in greeting and Alex waved once. She couldn’t wait to get rid of her weapons and her backpack and maybe, maybe she’d even get the chance to take a bath. She was amazed at how well equipped the quarters here were. But then again, she and Evan got to share one of the bigger quarters, since he was Sheppard’s second-in-command.
“Unscheduled off-world activation!” Chuck shouted, just as Alex was about to take the next set of stairs. She halted in mid-stride, frozen in place. That could mean anything, she told herself. Anything. This thing happened all the time. She took the step and then the next.
“It’s Major Lorne’s team. Gating in from a different planet. Lowering the shield.”
Evan was back early? They were supposed to go visit a world with a fairly sophisticated world, with a more than unusual location for the Gate. The middle of a town-square if she recalled correctly. Really, this mission couldn’t be over yet.
Next second she was rushing down the stairs, nearly tripping over her feet, when she heard the sound of energy blasts hitting solid wall.
“Raise the shield!” she heard Evan shout and before she knew it, she was standing in the Gate Room, marines in front of her, hiding him from view. Someone was lying on the ground.
“We need a medical team!”
Alex was pushed to the side. She barely felt it, she just moved forward to see Menard lying sprawled out on the ground. But there didn’t seem to be a wound anywhere. No blood. And there was Evan, standing on his own two feet, looking at Sheppard as he approached him. He must have been in the control room
“What happened, Major!?” Weir’s voice came from somewhere above.
“I suggest we tag that planet as unfriendly.”
“No kidding!” Sheppard and Evan both watched on as Menard was put on a stretcher.
“He was stunned,” Evan said. “I managed to pull him through.” He looked up then and met Alex’s gaze. The barely visible, reassuring smile on his lips did little to calm her down. He was back. He was safe. But she hadn’t, not for a second, even thought that something bad might happen to him. Not today.
All she could do was try and keep her breath steady. Things like this happened. She should be used to them by now, but the scratch on his cheek, made her realize that it was easier for her to see him in action that watch him coming out of it.
“They were Wraith Worshippers,” Nabi said, wiping his nose on his sleeve. “We gated to another planet to throw them off our trail, but they followed us.”
Sheppard rubbed his neck and nodded. “Glad you’re back. Debriefing in an hour. Get checked out, just in case. That cut looks nasty, Lorne.”
Evan nodded and gestured for the other members of his team to get moving, before meeting Alex’s gaze again, his eyes so earnest, they made her hiccup. What a weakling she was.
A waste of energy. That’s what she should be thinking looking down on the city from here, but she simply couldn’t. Not with the golden light from the hundreds of towers glowing warmly in the darkness and the stars and the moon above. It was just the way things were and McKay hadn’t found, or hadn’t bothered to find, a method of shutting down all the lights they didn’t need at night. Alex didn’t know, but she had to admit the effect created by the thousands of lights was breathtaking. Had Evan drawn this yet? Probably.
Evan had been in the briefing room for the better part of an hour now. They didn’t have time to talk, he’d only hugged her close to his chest, whispered that he was okay and had taken off, leaving her more vulnerable than before. He’d been hurt before, stunned, captured by the Genii, he’d been shot out of the sky and beaten up, but today had rattled her more than before. Maybe because she hadn’t expected it. Maybe because they’d almost decided on having another child. But even when Nora had still been with them, she hadn’t been this worried about him when he was off-world.
The cool ocean breeze ruffled her hair and she pulled it back into a bun, looking up to the city’s main spire, where Evan and the members of his team must still be right now. She was waiting for him on one of the three balconies near their living quarters. She’d seen Murdoch sneaking into Anna’s room about an hour ago and that had been the last movement in this particular corridor. There must still be people in the mess hall, getting a late-night snack, and there certainly were people at the gym and security teams walking the corridors, but apart from them there wasn’t a whole lot of activity around here.
She should be working on her report, make the best of the time she had until he came here, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to focus right now. She pulled up her tablet and started clicking through the messages she’d gotten with the last data burst. Just one from Chapman, informing her that she was expected at SGC with the next dial-in. But he didn’t get Weir’s plea to let her stay yet, so she’d stay here for now, especially since there wasn’t going to be a dial-in until the expedition got their hands on another power source.
One from Adam, telling her of a stewardess he’d started dating. Really, the man was one walking stereotype.
Two from her mother, telling her that the security detail had been withdrawn from their house and that she’d decided to join the church choir. Good for her.
Three messages from Daniel, one of which made her stomach tighten. Earth had lost contact to Langara about two weeks ago. The Ori, clearly, hadn’t stopped there, and nobody could tell what had happened to the people of Jonas’ world, or to Jonas for that matter. She could only hope he was okay.
And then there was a message from Evan’s dad, telling her about a great book he’d just read, asking her opinion on the theories of one Daniel Jackson. Apparently he’d found that book Daniel had written in a garage sale. The man had really dived into archaeology, Alex thought. Maybe too intensely. She could only hope David Lorne didn’t start digging.
Through the gap between two of the buildings to her right, she could see the Daedalus, which was set to leave for Earth the next day. How glad she was not to be stationed in a metal container like that for weeks on end. At least not right now.
She heard steps behind her. Too light to be Evan’s and she didn’t turn around, but they drew nearer and then Teyla was learning against the railing next to her. “Hello, Doctor.”
“Hey,” Alex said, wiping her brow. “Not ready for bed yet, either?”
“No.” The other woman shook her head. “Major Lorne asked me to tell you that he wanted to check up on Lieutenant Menard.”
“Makes sense. So you were in the debriefing?”
Nodding, Teyla folded her hands. “There have always been stories of people serving the Wraith willingly, but I didn’t believe those until very recently.” With a frown, she looked down on her hands. “It is strange.”
“No kidding… I mean,” Alex cleared her throat. “I get the addiction to the enzyme thing. I read about that. And it makes sense, but they can’t possibly all be addicted like that?”
“No.” Teyla sighed. “Major Lorne told us that apparently the people on the world they were on made sure there is plenty for the Wraith to feed on. They secure and conquer worlds for the Wraith, keep the population up as best they can and earn their reward.”
How many worlds must have fallen to them? How many people had been betrayed by other humans?
“And they’re left alone in return?” she guessed, “And are allowed to flourish?”
Teyla nodded. No wonder those people hadn’t been afraid to build their town around the Stargate.
She scoffed. “People are sick.”
“They may not have another choice.”
“Maybe. Still. Serving the Wraith willingly…” Alex had encountered a few of them, had seen the look of pure rapture on a Wraith’s face as it fed on another human being. Granted, she’d only seen it once, but it had been enough to make her have nightmares for weeks on end. How could any human being willingly allow somebody else to die like that? How could anybody wish to receive the life force which had been stolen from another living creature like that? There was always a choice.
“I agree. We have to be careful about these people from now on. Be more cautious. There will be a memo to all personnel tomorrow.”
Alex nodded. “Sounds about right.”
“How did your mission go?”
Of course Teyla would be present during the debriefing the next day, so there shouldn’t be any rush in telling her, but she was grateful for the company. For somebody to talk to while she waited for Evan. To keep her mind occupied, and Teyla must sense that. And so Alex told her what she’d told Halling. About how her writing down their stories would be wrong. About how grateful she was to be allowed to document as much as possible of their written history anyway.
“You did it before though, did you not? Interpret stories from pictures? Develop theories and write them down?”
Alex bit her lip and looked down on her hands. “That was different. Those cultures I used to work on, the texts I translated, were so old, there was nobody alive believing in any of that anymore. By all means, those religions were dead. Yours isn’t and I sure as hell won’t be the person to change what you have. Words are too powerful to be treated lightly.”
“I agree,” Teyla said quietly. “But that does not mean that a good documentation on what we have is not important. We-“ Teyla paused for a moment and shrugged. “Things can change so fast. They can get lost so easily.”
“No kidding,” Alex muttered, staring out on the water again. At the light being reflected off the rippled surface. If life had taught her anything, it was that. “And those pictures you have are something that won’t change. They’ve been put up on those walls with purpose and determination. Somebody thought long and hard about what to draw and how to draw it and that’s different.” And really, that made all the difference in the world. Her memories of Nora changed and faded. The day she’d woken up and found that she couldn’t remember the exact feeling of that tiny warm body against her chest, had been terrifying to say the least. But that picture Evan had drawn of them remained. The photo his mother had taken was still there. A freeze frame in time.
“What are your plans now?”
Alex shook her head. “I don’t know. I’ll keep working on documenting what we can find, but I won’t analyse or interpret. I’ll have to think of another strategy. Or Doctor Schneider will.” She bit her lip and shrugged. “I may have to go back to Earth for a while. We’ll see.” She really needed to talk to Anna.
Menard looked okay. He’d woken up before Evan came to see him. Woeste and Nabi would be checking up on their team mate the next day.
“Hey, Lieutenant,” Evan greeted him.
“Hey, Major. How did it go?”
Shrugging, Evan pulled up a chair and sat down. “Okay. Should be a fun report to write. How are you doing?”
“A bit of a headache,” Menard said. No small wonder. Menard had hit the ground pretty hard. “They’re going to keep me here over night.”
“Sounds about right.” Evan managed a smile. “Thanks for saving my skin back there.” The grin Menard threw back at him looked forced, but he knew the Lieutenant was glad to get the acknowledgement.
“Yes, Sir. I was terrified of what Doctor Lorne would’ve had to say if I let that guy take you down.”
“True enough.” Evan laughed. The look of poor terror on Alex’s face had been enough to remind him again of how quickly things could go south. But he was glad he could still joke about it with his team. Every other take on the danger they put themselves in, would’ve made going through the Gate next to impossible. And it wasn’t like this all the time. “Still. Good thinking dialling another planet first.” Ronda’s people had followed them straight away. Only a couple of minutes had passed before the Gate was dialled again and Ronda’s guards had stepped through. “They really wanted to check out who we were. What we’re capable of.”
“Didn’t they see the address on the DHD?” Menard asked, a look of concern on his face.
“I doubt they’ll be able to dial out again anytime soon,” Evan shrugged. “Nabin and Woeste had a couple of grenades left and those guys were so close to us.” And even if they did, the most important thing was that Menard was safe back here.
“Sir, I’ve been meaning to talk to you.” Reaching for the cup of water by his bedside gave Menard enough reason not to look straight at him.
“What is it?”
“You know I had a brother, right?” Menard said making an effort now to look Evan in the eye. “Single parent. He died a year ago and my mom’s been taking care of the little girl. I want to go back home. Take care of my niece. My mom’s not as young as she used to be.”
“Damn you, Menard,” Evan whispered, shaking his head. “Why the hell did you throw yourself in the way of that stunner?” He’d have been hit, Menard would’ve pulled him through the event horizon. No big deal, really. Or it shouldn’t be.
Shrugging, Menard took a sip of water. There was a kid back on Earth who needed him and he just threw his life on the line like that. Well, it was their job to get shot at, but if Menard was already thinking about resigning his commission, then that had been a damn stupid move. “You know why.”
Evan ignored the ripping pain in his chest, that jealousy which spread through his entire being whenever somebody talked about having children waiting for them back home. “You should go on the Daedalus.” He knew why Menard hadn’t talked to him until now. Hell, he would’ve been nervous in Menard’s place. Menard had been there when they found Nora, he’d given him and Alex the unidentifiable stuffed animal which had been right there next to Nora when she’d died.
“Don’t be. And if you need me to, I’ll make this an order.”
Alex quickly closed the picture on her tablet, when she heard footsteps behind her. Evan had told her about Menard. About him leaving and about how terrible Evan felt about being jealous. It was no small wonder. She herself found this whole thing hard to think about. But it was a good thing that Menard was leaving. For him and his little niece anyway. And she didn’t want anyone seeing her staring at the picture of Nora right now. Those were questions she still couldn’t face.
“Keeping busy?” Anna asked, grinning like a slightly deranged circus clown.
“Keeping busy,” Alex said, turning around in her chair to look at her colleague. “You’re not even trying to hide it, are you?”
“Nope.” Anna sat down opposite Alex and shrugged. “He’s awesome! So much better than Stephan! And so much nicer.”
Well that was new. Alex sat up straight and looked at her. “You never even mentioned Stephan. Just in that one email when you told me you were getting married.”
“Sometimes marriage is a huge mistake,” Anna said knowledgeable. “We’d been going out for about six years and… well. Everybody was expecting us to get married, so we did, and it was just so wrong. You wouldn’t know.”
Alex scoffed and shrugged. “No, things with Evan and me were a bit unconventional from the start to be honest. So, what made you decide to go for it with Oliver after all? It was about time, to be honest.”
Anna knew her way around Alex’s office far too well. She turned around in her seat, opened the top drawer of a small cabinet and pulled out a box of raisin cookies. That meant it was time for a break according to Anna. “I don’t know,” Anna said, ripping open the plastic and taking out three cookies at once before handing the package over to Alex. “I just started talking to him in the mess and things got intense. He’s a great guy. A bit too talkative sometimes, maybe, but,” she shrugged, “sexy as hell.”
“Hm…” Alex’d never thought of Oliver that way, but sure, if Anna was attracted to Oliver, who was she to judge? And Oliver was a nice guy. A reliable, steady man, who’d put his life on the line for anyone. “I think you made the right call. If it’s serious. Is it?”
“I think so. I mean, it’s only been two weeks, but we’re getting there.” She eyed Alex and crammed a cookie into her mouth. “’Ow ‘bout you?” Anna asked, nearly sputtering cookie all over the floor.
“What do you mean?” Alex bit off a piece of her cookie. “I don’t think Oliver is sexy, no.” She grinned when her friend rolled her eyes, “And, yes, it’s serious with Evan and me.”
“Haha…” Anna swallowed with an effort. Alex should really set up a tea kettle in here for occasions like these. These cookies were dry as hell. “I mean, you never told me how you met your guy.”
“My guy?” Alex laughed and shrugged. “We just met. He started talking, I thought he had the most amazing eyes I’d ever seen, and there was a bit of a smudge of charcoal on his chin from sketching. All I could think about the entire time was… well.” She blushed and lowered her gaze. “Artists are sexy, let’s leave it at that.”
“Huh…” Leaning back, her elbows on the desk behind her, Anna surveyed her. “And you dated for almost ten years?”
“Nah… we split up shortly after I took that job in New York.” She’d lost contact with Anna about the same time, or at least they’d lost personal contact. Professionally they’d kept collaborating, but Alex just never felt like talking about Evan anymore.
“Okay… well, I’m glad you’re back together. You two make an awesome competition for Oliver and me.”
“We’re still on for volleyball this afternoon, then?”
“Absolutely. Our new-found energy is going to crush you.”
“Ha! Well, that’s something I want to see.”
Before I started writing this series, I listened to the audiobook “Stargate Atlantis – Impressions” read by Kavan Smith again . For one, because it’s a Lorne-centred story, but also to get the sound of his voice into my head. It’s such a wonderful story, and his voice is incredible. I took some inspiration for this chapter from that audiobook, namely the scene where Lorne alludes to his backpacking trip. I probably won’t incorporate the rest of the audiobook’s story into this one, but I really wanted to allude to it. Hope you like it!
Her skin was hot against his as their breath mingled and hitched in the last aftershocks. The condom lay abandoned on the pillow next to her head, forgotten and decidedly ignored. One look had been enough to ensure that they weren’t going to use it. Talking about it would only take them back to the same conversation they’d had dozens of times and get them nowhere.
Alex’s head was resting in the crook of his arm, her hair sticking to her forehead, her eyes already starting to droop shut and that magnificent smile still on her lips. Just knowing that he was the one who put it there was enough to make him want to start all over again.
Leaning in, he kissed the corner of her mouth. “It’s the middle of the day,” he whispered into her ear. “Don’t fall asleep yet.”
She groaned. “Just a nap.” She turned around to lie on her side, wrapped her arm around his torso and drew closer so the tip of her nose was touching his Adam’s apple.
“Fine.” He let his fingertips trail down her spine. To just lie here, a few minutes past four in the afternoon, to hold her and watch her face illuminated by the sun should be enough. They rarely had time together like this during the day. Resting his chin on her head and enjoying the feeling of her warmth enveloping him, he felt his eyes starting to fall shut.
She woke gradually. She hadn’t slept properly, just dozed off really, but his breathing pattern had changed and his body had shifted. It was enough to make her open her eyes again. He was lying on his back now, one arm still wrapped securely around her, but his eyes were trained on the book he was holding. She couldn’t make out the words on the page, she’d need her glasses for that, but he must have been at it for a while. He didn’t even notice she was awake.
“What are you reading?” she asked drowsily, her voice sounding more like a grinding stone than anything else.
“Van Gogh biography.” He looked at her with a sideways glance and shut the book.
She almost felt bad for making him stop reading. “Don’t stop on my account.” Raising her hand, she touched his ear. A bad joke at a dead painter’s expense, but she couldn’t resist.
He chuckled and turned his head. “Nah…”
“Why van Gogh?”
The frown on his face wasn’t something she’d anticipated. He threw the paperback on the nightstand and turned on his side to look at her. His gaze, as he studied hers was intense. The same look he wore when he took out a pencil or a brush and started sketching or painting. A sense of pure rapture emanated from him then. Of focus and determination mingled with a fascination which had drawn her in the moment she met him. It had been the reason why it had been so easy to let him in, to give him full access, not just to her body, but to her soul. The very essence of her being. Because the way he looked at her, the way he looked at things that fascinated him, made her feel secure. Treasured even.
“What?” she grinned as his index followed the line of her lips. His brows were knitted together in concentration, his eyes focused on her mouth.
“The summer before I went to the Academy, I did a bit of backpacking,” he said, using almost the exact same words he’d said back in her old flat in Trier. When they’d started talking and only the alarm clock ringing in the early hours of the morning could make them stop. “And, I don’t know, I just had to think of a picture I saw when I was in Amsterdam. The Potato Eaters by van Gogh.” His gaze moved up to meet hers, and there was such a longing in them, it made her heart contract painfully. As though the very look in his eyes could squeeze the breath out of her lungs. His lips formed a soft smile. “I didn’t even think about that painting until I picked up the book just now.”
She’d seen it before, lying on his nightstand. She remembered him buying it at the airport in Frankfurt. “Why?”
Shaking his head, he leaned in and kissed her lips briefly. Evan’s lips were warm and dry against her own. “You know it? The painting?”
“Tell me.” She vaguely remembered having seen it somewhere at some point, probably at school, but she wanted to listen to his voice, to see the look on his face as he described it.
“It’s a really simple scene,” he said quietly, the low rasp in his voice at the end of the sentence making her push up closer against him. “Just a couple of peasants sitting around a table, eating potatoes. And the focus is this one woman.” His fingertips shifted from her lips to her eyebrows, to her jaw. “She’s looking at this man to her right and… back then I thought there was a sense of longing in them, but now…” he shrugged. “Maybe it’s just concern. Like she’s worried about him constantly. About feeding him. Keeping him safe. You reminded me of her yesterday.”
She would’ve laughed, had his words not hit dead centre. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not what I meant.” He cleared his throat. “Just. You looked so fragile then, when I know you’re everything but fragile. You remember Larsa?”
“Hard to forget. Over half a year trapped with you on a pre-industrial planet.” Friends gained, friends lost. Children, women and men killed in cold blood. A child born and ripped away from them. How could she forget?
Evan grunted and reached for her left hand with his. The golden wedding bands shimmered softly in the light of the setting sun. “When we were there, I was constantly terrified.”
“I know… me too.”
“But sometimes it was easier, you know? When the Jaffa didn’t pose an imminent threat, when the neighbours decided to protect us, or when Cuthbert came over. Or we had dinner after a long day in the fields. But still. I was always worried and the look in your eyes yesterday reminded me of that somehow. Of how we coped with everything back there. Adjusting to that life, learning so much.”
She scoffed. Cuthbert’s name had given her a pang. The boy had died with the rest of the villagers. She kissed his hand and brushed her free hand through his hair. “You were becoming quite the farmer.”
“You were incredible. Doing all the work when I couldn’t move, learning to milk that cow.”
“Killing chickens.” She hadn’t had chicken since those days. Remembering the feeling the bones in the neck break as she twisted it, the small body grow cold in her lap, of ripping the feathers out of the beheaded body, the weird sensation of satisfaction she felt when the feathers came out, was enough to make her feel sick even today. She’d told herself to just keep going and ignore the fact that she was dealing with an animal, because they needed to eat. No need to eat chicken nowadays. “The cow loved you more, though.”
“I have gentle hands, or so I’ve been told.” He smirked at her, his eyes glinting almost mischievously.
“Anyway… you were saying?”
“You looked at me that way sometimes like that. Like that woman in that painting when we were there. Worried, longingly…”
“It wasn’t just a question of survival then,” she muttered, unable to look at him then.
“I know… Nora was on the way, I know that. But I just figured, things can never get so bad again. That’s something you go through once. We will never again be stranded on a planet occupied by the enemy, relying on strangers helping us survive, worried about possibly never eating again. Nobody will ever take a child from us like that.”
“So you thought we should give it another try?”
“Weird thought pattern, I know. We’ll always be worried about each other, about a kid we might have, but that’s just part of life. It can happen anywhere anytime.”
“And then Menard left.”
He nodded. “And then Menard resigned his commission. Yes.” She’d started thinking about it as well at the exact same time, and she had to admit, he wasn’t wrong.
“So… we’re just going to try and think about the consequences later?”
The shrug was disconcerting to say the least. He wasn’t an impulsive person usually, and neither was she. Only when it came to them. Their relationship. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? She couldn’t tell.
“Let’s just decide not to worry. Let’s not think about it. We know we can do it, raise a kid, and if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t.”
Easier said than done. “Easy for you to say. You don’t keep track of my cycle.” And what would happen when she’d have to leave on the Daedalus? It was more than likely that she’d have to go then, and what would they say if she was pregnant by then? Would they be devastated when she wasn’t? No… he was right. Worrying about getting pregnant wasn’t the way to go. It’d happened once before. It’d happen again, or it wouldn’t, she told herself. They’d just take what life had in store for them and tweak circumstances where they could. It’d worked until now, why should it stop?
“I don’t?” Evan raised an eyebrow at her, kissed her knuckles and turned around to rummage in the drawer of his nightstand. “So you’re not gonna need those in a week?” He asked, producing a bag of crisps. Salt and vinegar.
“You planned this,” she laughed, ripping the bag from his grasp and sitting up to open the bag. She couldn’t believe he actually knew what she’d want in a week from now. But then again, he always had a bag for her, she realized. Always. At just the right time.
“A bit, yes,” he grinned up at her, the dimples forming in his cheeks making her heart beat faster for a second. They made the thin scratch on his cheek stand out even more those dimples. “But only insofar as I made sure that I have one at the ready.”
“Cheeky,” Alex said, stuffing one crisp into her mouth. “Want one?”
“I should stay off chips.” Evan patted his flat stomach and looked up at her with a grin.
“Sure. Make your wife stuff her face with calories.”
“Well, they have to go somewhere. It’s physics.”
“Hm.” Shrugging, Alex placed another one on her tongue and held one in front of Evan’s lips, who wrinkled his nose at the smell. But he took it into his mouth anyway.
“That’s your palette’s fault.”
“I’ll give it a good talking to.” He sat up as well, his arm sneaked up around her shoulders to pull her closer. His kiss tasted salty and sour and distinctly of crisps. “I need to tell you something.” He wrapped one strand of hair around his finger und brushed his thumb over her chin.
The gravity in his eyes drove all thought of crisps and sex clear out of her mind. Soft plastic crackling filled the silence between them as she put down the bag. “What?”
Next moment, he’d let go of her. His hands were around hers. “Don’t bite my head off, please. I just- there was no time, or the right time is never there. I-“ Swallowing hard, he squeezed her hand. “The day after we got back, Beckett came to see me.”
Her eyes widened. Was that it then? Had he started talking about kids, because he was sick? No, that couldn’t be it. Could it? If it were, why was he still on duty? “What?”
“No! No, don’t look at me like that. I’m fine. It’s just- apparently the Air Force sent some tissue samples along when we got back. Giving him no details on where they came from, but they wanted him to do an analysis. He hasn’t spoken to me since, so, really it’s probably nothing.”
Her heart plummeted and she withdrew her hands straight away. Don’t bite my head off, he’d said. Like it was nothing. “Yeah?” she asked, the one word coming out louder than she wanted. “Did he say that it was about our daughter? Has the SGC found another one? They found plenty of Ba’al’s clones didn’t they?” She hated how high her voice sounded and the hurt look on his face made it even worse. She threw the blanket back and got up.
“Well?” she asked, rummaging through her drawer to find underwear. This was no argument to be had naked.
“No, he didn’t know and-“
“It’s been what? Two weeks? Three?”
“I said I never found the time-“
“Three damn weeks, Evan!” There was just no excuse. Shaking her head, she started putting on her clothes. She couldn’t look at him. From one second to the next he just wasn’t someone she wanted near her. Not right now. It would pass quickly enough. “Is that why you decided to bring up this topic about kids again?”
“You’re telling me that in three weeks you didn’t have the time to tell me one simple thing?!”
Her hands were shaking. News of Nora rarely shook her like that these days, mainly because there never were any news. “I bet you are,” she hissed, throwing over her shirt. It was inside out, but she didn’t care. She needed some air.
“Alex, where are you going?”
“To write my report, Evan.” Her cheeks were burning. She was rarely angry with him, but she was now. And she needed to talk to Beckett. Why the hell hadn’t the Doctor said anything to her?! She’d seen him just the previous day for her routine check-up. Reaching for her glasses, she started for the door. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” She would’ve slammed the door if she could’ve. Damn Lantean architecture.
She was in front of the infirmary within minutes, her heart racing, her hands clammy. She hesitated, pausing, wondering if she really had it in her to proceed. To just go in there and ask Beckett for clarification without Evan. The throbbing pain in her chest had nothing to do with the anger she felt at him. That would pass quickly enough, but it had everything to do with that sense of falling without being able to stop.
Hurried footsteps echoed in the empty corridor behind her. A rhythm and a certain sound she would’ve recognized anywhere. She didn’t however acknowledge him.
“Doctor Beckett?” Alex had spotted the expedition’s chief surgeon at the far end of the infirmary, walking towards a metal cabinet. She didn’t want to talk. . Not to Evan. She didn’t want to face him and his apology right now. If only she had the energy to be truly angry with him, things would be easier. Unfair, but easier.
Beckett was rummaging through a metal cabinet, sorting through medications by the looks of it. A box the size of a computer tower was standing next to him. The expired pills probably. When he heard her voice, he turned around and he frowned at her. “Are you feeling alright, Doctor?”
Alex’s mouth was dry, her heart was beating wildly and she knew her cheeks must be bright red as she approached him, Evan following behind her. No, she wasn’t fine, but there wasn’t anything Beckett could do to calm her down. All that she could do was remind herself that none of this was Beckett’s fault. “No- Yes… Can we talk in private?”
There weren’t a whole lot of people around, but what she had to ask of Beckett wasn’t fit for everybody’s ears. This was nobody’s business, but hers and Evan’s.
Beckett eyed them for a moment, assessing the state they were in. By the way they were standing next to each other alone, he should’ve been able to tell that something was terribly wrong, never mind Evan’s ruffled hair and the fact that she had her shirt on the wrong way and that her glasses were smudged. He must know what had driven them here in this state. That sense of fighting a losing battle made her knees weak, her stomach churn. Evan’s presence close by her elbow didn’t make it any easier, and neither did the fact that she didn’t feel his eyes resting on her. What a scene she was causing. But she couldn’t find it in her to care.
“Did you find anything?”
Beckett looked down the infirmary. Nobody was paying them any attention. Keller was going over some files on her tablet, completely ignoring the three of them. “Come with me,” he said, starting to lead them into his small office to the side of the infirmary. Like most labs and offices here in Atlantis, this room didn’t have a window, but it didn’t feel claustrophobic. Not like his office at the SGC had felt.
“Sorry for disturbing you like this. I-“
“That’s quite alright, Major. No need to apologize.” Beckett cleared his throat and picked up his tablet. “Take a seat there, I have to look up the file first.” He pointed towards a narrow sofa standing next to the door. There was barely enough room to fit them both, but it would work. It was as much an excuse to give them some time to calm down as anything, she knew.
Evan hesitated and inhaled briefly. He was on the brink of saying her name again. And he was right, of course. This was about more than just their fight, about unspoken secrets or fear of saying the wrong thing.
When she finally met Evan’s gaze, she couldn’t move for a second. He wasn’t frowning at her, his eyes weren’t cold, but the look of sheer distance in them, was terrifying enough. Like he was accusing her of breaking his trust. But then he moved, taking her hand decidedly and pulling her with him onto the sofa. Their knees and legs were touching and she sensed the familiarity between them at the same time she felt that he was angry with her. To even think that he'd feel betrayed now, made her almost want to smack him. There was just no excuse for his not telling her, but the worst thing about it was probably that boring sensation of disappointment. She'd never taken him for a coward.
Eying him from the side she knew she was being unfair. He wasn't weak and he had more guts than any man she'd ever met. Additionally, he'd taken so much crap from her, with the breakup and especially after Nora's death. But right now she couldn’t be fair.
“I didn’t think you wanted to know, when you didn’t say anything,” Beckett said, pulling up a stool and sitting down opposite them. He was still looking at his tablet, hesitating to meet their eyes and that was enough to make her want this whole thing to be over already. “But apparently you two had a long, disturbing talk…” His words stung, but she didn’t flinch back. Her entire being seemed so numb and hyper aware of everything at the same time that the accusation in Beckett’s voice couldn’t faze her.
“Okay, so, what I’m telling you is off the record,” He looked up at them and shook his head, like he couldn’t believe he was breaking the rules like this. “I believe you deserve to know and the Air Force can go to hell for trying to make me keep quiet.” He cleared his throat.
“Did they find a clone of Nora?” Alex spoke so quickly, she almost bit on her tongue and Evan’s hand closed more firmly around hers. No, she was glad he was here. Glad she had someone to hold on to. Her anger evaporated as suddenly as it had come, making her feel winded and exhausted, before she even knew what Beckett was going to tell them. And she was so sick of it. So sick of sitting in the offices of doctors, listening to one piece of bad news after the other. “Or just a dead body?” She hated how aggressive she sounded, but she didn’t care. She thought of broken bodies, of bodies ditched somewhere, of a little baby trapped eternally in stasis.
Beckett’s eyes flickered upwards and he held her gaze then, his mouth set in a firm line. “In a way… now, it’s just a bit of information and I’m still digging. As the Major here obviously told you, I received a request for investigation and a tissue sample a few weeks ago. Taken from a dead body by the looks of it, and, like I said, I’m still not entirely clear on what I found there.” He took a deep breath and rubbed his forehead, “but what I can tell you is that my research confirms that there are certain similarities between the DNA they sent me and the records I keep of your daughter.”
Her throat was dry. Burning. Tissue taken from a dead body. Things seemed to fall into place. Things she’d sensed before now but didn’t want to talk about.
“What the hell does that mean, Doc?” Evan leaned forward letting go of her hand, leaving it shaking in the air. Her trembling breath made him place his hand on her knee again.
“Here’s the thing,” Beckett said, “I don’t know exactly. What I can tell you is that the tissue must have been taken from a grown person, or somebody whose growth was accelerated immensely. That person was female and she had, or has, some similarities with your daughter. But not quite. It certainly wasn’t her! There is probably more similarity between my grandmother and me than between that sample and the record I have. I can’t be sure of anything else. I’d need more information on that body before I could tell you more. But I’m working on it.”
Accelerated growth. What did that even mean? She remembered the Ba’al clone they’d seen on that planet, the barely finished version of a grown man’s body. She lowered her gaze and stared at the floor, at how it seemed to move beneath her feet, shifting in and out of focus, as her stomach turned.
“What about the other part of the genetic make-up?” Evan asked.
Beckett sighed and shook his head. Like he really didn’t want to tell them that part, but knowing that there was no going around it now.
Hera Simon, née Barton. The woman who’d tracked them down in Germany. The woman she’d killed.
Alex barely felt her legs moving when they left Beckett’s office and hadn’t it been for Evan’s body right behind her, she would’ve collapsed the moment the transporter doors closed before them. But he was there. Despite everything, he was by her side, guiding her to their quarters again, his own hands cold but steady.
Her eyes didn’t linger on the bed with the messy sheets, or on the bag of crisps. She just stared at the ground as she pushed herself to go into the bathroom before the contents of her stomach could splash the floor of their room. She’d been dreading this. She’d almost been expecting it, she realized.
She hit the ground hard, her knees screaming in pain, before the smell of disinfectant and toilet hit her nostrils, making this whole thing so much easier. She was shivering, heaving, and then it just seemed to break out of her. The tears, the sobs, her lunch. And Evan was there, holding her hair back, his own breath shaky and warm on her icy skin. And there was no sense of relief or release. Just dry, raw pain and the memory, the feeling of dry, sticky blood on her hands, as the face of the woman flashed before her eyes.
“It wasn’t her,” she heard him say behind her when she was done, when no more but bile would come, leaving her breathless and exhausted, every muscle in her body still cramped up. He sat down behind her, his arm reaching around her body to grab some toilet paper. He wiped her cheeks, her mouth, kissed her neck, and none of it helped. His voice was so strained, she felt her own terror echoed in it.
“Not entirely her.” She’d killed that woman. That woman, who pretended to be Douglas Barton’s niece. Or was. Or was she somebody else? How did you call a person like that? The similarities between Ba’al’s host and her had struck Alex from the moment she’d gotten a good look at that photograph, but this… She’d killed a part of her daughter, no matter how small.
She could practically feel Evan’s heart racing in his chest as she leant against him, could feel the pulse in his neck as he held her, his hand on her forehead, the other arm wrapped securely around her. “I killed her,” she whispered as she felt Evan’s tears hit her skin. He hadn’t cried in front of her in such a long time.
“She wanted to kill you.” His breath tickled her cheek. “And it wasn’t her.” He said it like he wanted to believe it. And of course he was right. Of course not. Their girl had been a couple of months old. She’d been a baby. A person trying to grow and failing at it. A person they’d gotten to know and love, and Beckett’s research confirmed it, that person, Hera Simon, could never have been their child. Just part of her. A part of her that survived somehow. A part of them.
“If I ever see him again, I’ll rip his heart out,” she whispered, closing her eyes and clutching Evan’s hands. “I swear, I’ll gut him.”
His hand traced her jaw and he kissed her cheek. Alex blinked and looked up at him, into those eyes she’d fallen in love with. “Leave some for me, okay?”
Her bags were packed. She’d arrived with one, she’d leave with two.
He watched her stuff another book in her backpack. They’d barely talked since getting up and there wasn’t a whole lot to say. No, that wasn’t true. There was an awful lot to be said, but there simply wasn’t enough time to say it in. She had to get onboard Daedalus now and wait for her paperwork to come through, so Weir had a better chance of getting her to come back here. But she had to leave. Now.
“Do you have everything?” he asked, already feeling forlorn without her in this room. One and a half years they’d been here together, and he couldn’t quite imagine what it would be like without her here. It almost felt like that time he had to leave her in New York, only that this time she wasn’t starting a new job and that the distance between them would take forever to bridge. They didn’t even have the energy in Atlantis anymore to send weekly emails. The next news he’d get from her would take three weeks to reach him. Three whole weeks of silence.
“Probably,” she said and shrugged. She turned around then, her face set, her eyes dry but full of pain. “If I don’t, you’ll just have something to remember me by.”
Evan forced a laugh and took her in his arms. “Be safe, okay?”
It’d been about two weeks since their breakdown in the bathroom and things hadn’t gone back to normal yet. She’d be closer to the investigation, closer to Ba’al. Closer to their daughter’s grave. She bit her lip and kissed his cheek, then the corner of his mouth. They didn’t really have time for this, but he’d be damned if he didn’t take this last opportunity to kiss his wife. She wasn’t pregnant, which, despite their talk, was a bit of a disappointment and relief at the same time.
“I’ll be home for Christmas,” he said quietly, kissing her forehead. “I hear the Gate Bridge will be done by then.”
“Let’s see how the test goes.” Alex’s hands were on his hips, as she moved closer, kissing him deeply and longingly, making him want to hold her and keep her with him and screw the Air Force, the IOA and their lies. And still, despite everything, he couldn’t imagine resigning his commission and that terrified him. At least, he thought, when the people in charge of the investigation had full confirmation or more information, they’d let them know, fill them in. He had to believe that. And there was still so much to be done here in the Pegasus Galaxy. He couldn’t just turn his back on the people here, or on the people in the Milky Way. His own personal feelings towards his employers didn’t really matter in the big picture. And Alex knew that. She felt the same way, or she’d have handed in her resignation already.
“I have to go.”
Evan nodded, reluctantly let go of her and picked up her bags.
A/N: Sorry, it’s been a while. I promise, after Thursday I’ll be able to post more regularly again. Hope you enjoy this one!
Mitchell had made it worse. How could exchanging one single roof-tile make the roof leak worse? Standing in the middle of her office, looking at the puddle of cold water spreading on the hardwood floor.
“Yeah, sorry ‘bout that,” Mitchell said, rubbing his neck and staring at the mess. “When did you say the roofers would be here?”
“Three days,” she sighed, looking out the window and the curtain of rain splashing furiously against it.
“Yeah... I’ll get a bucket.”
“Thanks for the offer though.” It was the thought that counted, even if the water was practically streaming into the room now.
Mitchell scoffed and left the room, clapping her on the shoulder. He’d offered to take a quick look at her roof when she’d told Daniel about the miniature leak in her office. How she wished she hadn’t taken him up on it. Not that Evan would’ve done a better job at it- no, he would have. He’d become quite handy on Larsa, and he would certainly not have punched a hole in the roof with a hammer he didn’t need for this kind of job.
Within minutes Mitchell was back with a big bucket and a mop. She took the mop and shrugged. “Why don’t you go down? I’ll clean this up.”
“It’s your birthday! You should be at the party!”
Her brother had shown up, Daniel was drunk after two beers, Vala was thoroughly enjoying that and also playing on Evan’s X-Box with Teal’c, Carter was hiding out in the kitchen to avoid Adam, who was kept busy by Ellen and Roger, and Alex’s team could never, ever find out about this soirée. Not that she hated having all these people around, she didn’t. It just felt weird to have that many visitors over, especially with Evan still in Pegasus. But she knew that was why they were here. To keep her company.
“You’re sure?” she asked and Mitchell shrugged.
“I can manage.”
“That’s what you said about the roof,” she grinned and rushed outside before Mitchell could say another word.
So, this is how it’s going to go? One paragraph for every day? It really sucks that we don’t have the ZPM anymore, but there you go.
Murdoch has been complaining, secretly of course, about the new addition to his team. I guess he would’ve liked to keep you around for a bit longer. He’s not the only one, but you already know how I feel. I keep telling him that you fully intend on coming back here as soon as possible, but he said he hates having a team full of soldiers. Apparently having a civilian on board makes being off-world more fun. He’s not wrong. Maybe I should try to get Doctor Schneider to join my team? But she really does seem more comfortable behind her desk.
Anyway, I finished reading that historical novel. Why is there so much sex in those books? Not that I mind, but seriously? Can you send me the second volume? Or maybe bring it yourself? I wouldn’t mind that.
The test flight for the Gate Bridge is set for when the Daedalus returns and Sheppard is set to do the flying. Too bad I’m nor going. I would’ve liked to see you ahead of schedule.
I’ll leave it at this for now. I’ll have more to say tomorrow.
The Ancients had rarely set up Gates in deserts, which made the place exceptionally interesting for the geologists who’d come here a couple of days ago, accompanied by Murdoch’s team. Alex would’ve made a great addition here, he thought, and Murdoch had said so. But it just wasn’t in the cards.
Evan adjusted his sunglasses and surveyed the surrounding area from the top stairs leading up to the Gate. At least it wasn’t as hot as he’d feared. Nothing much to be seen from here, apart from the pillars which had been erected on either side of the Gate and the dunes surrounding the it. The planet’s magnetic field was messing with the Jumpers’ systems. Another reason for the geologists to grow positively excited about going here. Magnetic fields and messed-up sensors made for great material for those guys to explore. Evan remembered all too well how excited the geologists and engineers on that Unas planet had been, especially Ritter.
God, he wished the geologists hadn’t met the same fate as Ritter.
“What do we have? You weren’t too specific, Captain.” Murdoch was waiting for them at the bottom of the dais, Fisherman and one of the two new members of his team, whose names Evan didn’t even know yet, by his side. In the transmission Murdoch had been hard to understand due to the massive interference, but the urgency had been more than clear.
“We set up camp about three clicks South from here, Sir,” Murdoch said. “Doctor Pryce and her team were a across the ridge examining a couple of rocks, apparently there's naquadah here. And then they were just gone. We looked for them, but found nothing.”
Evan signalled for two of his men to stay at the Gate, feeling that twinge of annoyance in his chest and he remembered O’Neill’s sarcasm from back then. His testy question of whether it was normal for people to just stray away from camp like that. He would almost have asked the same question. But Murdoch was a good officer. He must’ve had his reasons to let the geologists wander off like that. “Why wasn’t one of your men with them?”
“Sergeant Gray was with them, Major,” Murdoch said without meeting his gaze as they started trudging up the dune, the sand making it hard to move.
And who was guarding the camp? Probably nobody, but there wasn’t a whole lot to be stolen. Just a bit of equipment and a couple of rocks. “And no unusual activity?”
“No, Sir. Nobody came through the Gate, Fisherman was watching it. And there weren’t any ships nearby.”
“Huh.” Finally making it to top of the dune, he felt his heart racing. He did enough cardio usually, but walking through the sand like this sure was exhausting. “Alright, let’s go.”
Time delay is not my favourite part of our relationship at the moment. I just sent you a really, really long message along with the Daedalus asking you about a billion things and telling you every little aspect of my boring life back on Earth. And it’s not even that boring, just a bit boring and mostly my work here keeps me busy. But you already know that, right? The flowers you planted, you know which ones I mean, have grown quite a bit, but of course they weren’t in bloom anymore when I got back.
It’s been three weeks since my last message reached you, so let me refresh your memory. The European Team is competent and skilled at what they do. Colonel Dubois, Doctor Parra and Captain Dömer are really nice. Suffice it to say, that’s about it. I just can’t fully appreciate them, because I don’t feel like I belong with them. It’s not their fault.
The paperwork is just about to go through, I hear. I also hear, through various channels (Daniel) that General O’Neill put in a good word for me in the right places. Don’t ask me why he cares so much, but I’m grateful he does.
Oh, and something I haven’t told you yet. The roof is leaking. I was just in the cafeteria, typing up this email and hoping none of my team saw me complaining about having to be on their team at all, when Daniel and Mitchell turned up. Long story, short, they invited themselves over for my birthday (Ellen, Roger and the boys are coming too, by the way) and Mitchell offered to fix the leak. We’ll see how that goes. He grew up on a farm, so he’s bound to be handy, right?
I’ll write the next message as soon as I’ve read the rest of your last one. And... yes, you have already answered all the questions I’ve been meaning to ask. Also, you actually finished reading Outlander? Very admirable. I actually left that book for the base’s library, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. Just don’t tell me you’re starting to read the Shopaholic books, because, if you are, I need you to tell me so I have a chance of catching up with you.
How is my sock?
Carter was reading the newspaper when Alex joined her. “Sorry, I was just-"
“I know. Sorry about my brother. He can be nice if he really tries.” Unfortunately Adam wasn’t trying hard enough all the time. At least he was trying with Evan these days, and that was a massive win in her eyes. She only wished he hadn’t verbally attacked Carter like that.
Mitchell was just coming down the stairs, threw them one look and then returned to the party.
Carter shrugged and reached for her wine glass. “Don’t apologize for him. He’s old enough.”
“Thank you for not smashing his illusions about knowing all there is to know about engineering.”
“I'm not in the mood to smash someone right now, to be honest.”
Alex nodded. These last couple of years had been exhausting for everyone, but of course it was hardest on the front-line team. Especially since the war with the Ori was as far from being won as ever. “Thanks for coming anyway.”
“No, it's good to get off-base for a normal occasion every once in a while.” Without waiting for confirmation, Carter took a second glass off the counter and poured Alex some wine as well. “Shall we go back to the rest?”
Alex took a sip of her wine and signalled for Carter to go ahead. When they entered the hall, she saw Vala standing on the stairs, looking at the pictures there. Carter squeezed her arm slightly and moved to join her team.
“What happened to her?” Vala asked, looking at the photo of Alex and Evan with Nora. No, where is she, or any other questions Alex would’ve had a hard time answering. The fact that Vala had had a daughter and lost her to the Ori not long ago, had been on Alex’s mind for a while now, but she’d never had the courage to talk to Vala about it. Mostly, because they weren’t close. But also, because she was terrified of the talk.
“You spend so much time on base. No time to read all the mission reports there?” She leaned against the railing. Vala’s eyes were fixed on the photograph, a look of sincerity in her eyes Alex had never seen there. Sincerity. Regret. Sadness.
The picture was one of the few photographs on their walls. Most of the other pictures were drawings which Evan had made. Alex had taken a few of them with her back home. Pictures of the scenery on the mainland, pictures of the city. He’d taken to sketching and painting the city more than people recently. That photo had been taken by Evan’s mother shortly after Nora had been rescued.
“Not exactly exciting reads,” Vala said, taking the picture off the wall without asking for permission and sitting down on the stairs. “They’re not good writers these scholars and soldiers. Well, apart from O’Neill. He’s pretty good actually.”
After hesitating for just a moment, Alex went to sit down to Vala. “She died,” Alex said and when Vala looked at her, she felt that twinge of recognition of loss. Swallowing hard, she looked into the next room, at Evan’s family gathered there with SG-1.
“Why would that be in a mission report?”
This is already the tenth message in this very, very long message. Only about twenty more messages until I get the next one from you. Not a whole lot has happened since the last time. I had some kind of Pegasus flu and Beckett had me in the infirmary over the last weekend, which is why I haven’t written since then. But I’m doing all better now. Maybe because I started reading HP again? Oh, those Shopaholic books have been hijacked by Anna. Never thought she’d be into that kind of… stuff. Oh, well. I hope it’s okay I let them have her? I’m almost sure she’ll give them back to you. Talking of which, I have a theory about HP. I’ll tell you when you’re back.
Last night I was rung out of bed by Radek. My radio wasn’t working, so he came to fetch me himself. He made a comment on my weird choice of socks. Guess that was some kind of Czech humour I’m not getting. I should wash the pair, I guess, but I’m terrified of losing yours.
Sheppard and I have worked out a new schedule for the security teams and did some editing of the security protocols with McKay’s help. Guess who’s gonna have to present them to Doctor Weir? Yep, me. I’ll do that tomorrow. You’ll like them, I’m sure. ;). Oh, and the blinking lights on the new security cams are slightly more orange! McKay insisted. He said they look less hostile and are also a lot better definition-wise. I believe him.
Yep, I have to go now. Apparently some geologists went missing. Be back soon!
“Listen,” Evan leant on the counter, ignoring the dirty glass the barman placed in front of him. Murdoch was by his side, keeping an eye on the crowd, just in case this was going badly. “We heard a couple of people recently came through here.”
“A lot of people come through here,” the barman said, eying Evan suspiciously. His tavern was pretty full for this time of day and the smell of stale smoke, spilled beer and greasy food, all covering up slight traces of vomit and dust, were almost enough to turn Evan’s stomach. The rest of the team was outside, watching the tavern and their way out. How the geologists had been taken, Evan couldn’t say, neither could anyone else. And why had they just taken the scientists and left the military personnel behind? They’d been looking for the four men for about two weeks now.
“Yes, I get that,” Evan conceded, “but you’re sure you don’t want to help us?” He reached into his vest and produced a small pouch of currency. It was pretty hard to come by for the Atlantis expedition, but for instances such as these it was given out. And the intel from one of the Athosian traders had been enough for Weir to hand over the money.
He weighed the pouch in his hand, letting the metal cling softly.
The barman’s eyebrows moved up and he shook his head. “I have no idea how much is in there.”
Evan raised an eyebrow, produced one of the larger coins and slammed it on the wooden bar in front of him. “Now?”
The man snorted and shrugged. He slid the coin over the rough surface. “Who’re you looking for?”
Well, yesterday was my birthday and I just took Adam to the airport. Ellen, Roger and the boys are still around. It’s getting easier to be around them. The kids, I mean. I suppose that’s a good thing. But they look so much like you, Simon especially. Roger keeps insisting Simon has your artistic skills. Yeah, well, he proved that by drawing on the wallpaper in the guest room. I’ll just leave it there, so you have something to admire when you get here for Christmas.
The day before yesterday Landry called me into his office to inform me about Hera. Nothing we didn’t already know. Won’t go into details though. Somebody’s bound to be reading this.
Apart from that there haven’t been any news. Well, except that Ba’al has about a trillion clones by now. If we catch one of them, I’ll make sure to get a private word in. You know what I mean. We talked about that already.
I was just reassigned to SG-8 for now. Yep, I’m now an American citizen. Needless to say, Colonel Dubois wasn’t too happy about letting me go, but there you go. Like I said, they’re decent guys, but I don’t regret this decision. Now we only have to wait for the IOA to clear me to go to Pegasus again. But before that, the new team and I are going on a mission. Some refugees made contact with the Alpha Site via the Jaffa. We’re off to talk to them in about an hour. I just hope Ellen, Roger and the kids won’t be mad at me for leaving them like this. But they know our job is crazy.
The man snorted and spat on the ground. The bruise on his forehead where Murdoch had hit him was dark red against the pale skin. As he swallowed, the tattoo on his Adam’s apple stood out and Evan recognized it. “You’re a Wraith Worshipper,” he stated. They’d picked him off the street and taken him to this clearing in the adjoining forest. An empty storehouse would’ve been better for this interrogation, but they just didn’t have the time.
Having finished tying the man up, Fisherman stood back and nodded at Evan. All done there.
“What do you want from me?”
“Did you take our people?” He didn’t have time for this. Sheppard had just radioed in. The expedition was heading back to Earth and the clock was ticking. They’d have to be back on Atlantis within twelve hours. Why this was happening, Sheppard didn’t have the time to explain, and Evan didn’t have time to question his orders. They needed to get Doctor Pryce and the other geologists and fast. But this place was a trading post and the goods that were traded here were people. For all Evan knew, this man could’ve resold their guys already. They could be headed to yet another planet.
The man snorted again. His dark green eyes full of contempt.
“You know, I don’t really like head hunters. And I’m beyond shooting you in the leg,” Evan said, knowing his team mates wouldn’t betray him if he did. He lowered his gun and aimed it for the man’s knee. Two weeks they’d been hunting for the scientists. Two weeks. And now they only had a couple of hours left. And he wasn’t going to be the one responsible for leaving their people behind. He’d been through this himself. Those guys were counting on them.
“I’m sure you’re not,” the man breathed through clenched teeth. “Only problem is, are you going to do that before, or after my men shoot you in the neck?”
Colonel Andrews took the lead, Major Brackley right behind him. Really, the forest they were trudging through didn’t look unlike the countless woods she’d been to before, even though Evan would most likely have disagreed with her. He had a different view of the world, of shapes and colours.
Lieutenant Esposito was walking beside her, watching their surroundings as they followed the narrow footpath leading away from the Gate. An ambush could happen at any time, they knew that, especially since they’d been called here. Colonel Pierce from the Alpha Site had given them the exact location where the refugees were waiting for them, and he’d sent a team from his contingent to have their backs. They were watching the Gate right now.
Esposito didn’t talk much. Brackley was the chatty one usually, Alex had found out, but not today. Today, the more sound they made, the easier it would be for enemies to spot them, if there were any. She really hoped there weren’t.
The clearing they’d been sent to wasn’t too far from the Gate and Alex’s eyes fixed on the tents immediately. They were of familiar design, though she couldn’t quite place them. She’d seen that fabric before. Tents… she had to focus on those. Just two of them. About ten people were in front of them, all men, all of them facing them with grim expressions. But no weapons. And then her eyes fixated on the one man approaching them and her heart missed a beat. His planet was supposed to be fully converted by the Ori.
Alex swallowed hard and pushed past the Colonel to meet him. Refugees who knew about the Alpha Site. Of course. “Jonas!”
“Hey.” Jonas was smiling, but the expression didn’t reach his blue eyes. He had a bandage wrapped around his neck and his sleeve was ripped. The people with him didn’t look much better. In the dim morning light, they all looked pale and as though they hadn’t slept or eaten in days. The tents, by the looks of it, were all they’d managed to bring with them. The couple of guns carefully stacked in a corner of the tent, were all the extra equipment they’d brought.
“I thought you were dead.”
Jonas nodded, making her stomach lurch. No extending his arms to hug her, no explanation. What it must have cost him to get off Langara. What it must feel like for him to lose his home for a second time. Permanently this time.
“Jonas Quinn?” Andrews asked behind her and Alex took a step to the side to make room for him.
Jonas nodded again. “Thanks for coming, Colonel Andrews,” Jonas said. “We didn’t know who else to contact. We just barely made it off-world.”
“Langara has been fully converted,” a younger man next to Jonas said with a quivering voice. “We held the bunker where the Stargate was kept for as long as we could, but-“ he broke off.
“We were fifty originally,” Jonas said hoarsely. “More on the rest of the planet, but we couldn’t reach them.” His jaw was clenched, his eyes cold. Alex sensed that just talking about it was hard. “Not with the war going on again. This is all the equipment we managed to bring.” The chilliness in Jonas’ voice made her mouth go dry. His homeworld had only just started to recover from the cold war raging on it for hundreds of years, they’d only just started coming together. And the Ori must have divided them again.
They did that. In order to make more people convert, or to force them to convert.
Next to her, Andrews shifted uncomfortably, but he nodded. “Why didn’t you tell us who you were?”
Jonas snorted. “Would you’ve have believed me? With everything that’s going on in the galaxy?”
“Sir,” Brackley spoke up, “shall I go back to the Gate and make the call?” The call to ask whether they could take these refugees through. Or whether they had to remain here. Who could say what would happen these days? But at least Landry knew who Jonas was. They’d be kept in isolation for a couple of days, but they’d be allowed to come with them, Alex was sure of it. And then what?
Andrews eyed Jonas, then looked over at Alex. What was that supposed to mean? She couldn’t read the man. Unsure of what was expected of her, she nodded. “Jonas, can we talk?”
A brief smile flickered almost imperceptibly over Andrews’ face, before he ordered Brackley to go back to the Gate.
Jonas looked at her, his eyes almost dull in the bright sunlight. He nodded briefly, motioned for his people to stay and then at Alex to follow her to one of the tents.
One of Murdoch’s men, Smith, was the first to fall. A clean shot to the neck. They drew together so they were standing back to back, Fisherman pushing their prisoner to the ground. They acted in unison, clear, well-rehearsed movements, which wouldn’t help them at all in this situation.
The shots were coming from three different directions, so there had to be at least three enemies. Evan kept his P-90 raised, his eyes trained on the underbrush and trees surrounding them, watching for movements. The next shot rang out, making dirt splash up like a fountain, only centimetres fromhis feet and Evan returned fire, straight into a bush, where a couple of leaves had shifted ever so slightly. A bloody face broke through the twigs and leaves, collapsing in a heap on the ground.
“He’s dead!” Fisherman shouted, but Evan didn’t have to turn around to know who Fisherman was talking about. Their prisoner wasn’t moving anymore.
Murdoch’s shoulder was touching his and then the next salvo was fired at them. No automatic weapons fire. That was something. But Fisherman was down, but just on his knees, still aiming at the trees. Not dead. Not yet.
Evan cursed as Murdoch opened fire into the shadows. Two men down. This really couldn’t end well.
Landry and Carter were waiting for them at the bottom of the ramp. Carter was even smiling slightly at Jonas, but he didn’t return the gesture, just shook hands with the two of them. The stiffness in his body made it hard to watch this reunion.
“Thank you for letting us through,” he said.
Before, Jonas had almost always been cheerful, had never said a really bad word about anybody, even when people had offended him outright, but this new Jonas was creeping her out. The things he must have seen and experienced on his home world had changed him. And no, she hadn’t expected him to turn up again, but to see him changed like this, hurt almost as badly as the thought of him being dead.
“Sure. Doctor Lam is waiting to examine you in the infirmary. SG-8, we’ll debrief in one hour.”
Jonas nodded. She’d talked to him briefly as Brackley went back to the Gate, but he hadn’t been particularly forthcoming. They’d escaped from Langara the previous day. Storming the bunker, trying to get off-world with as many people as possible, to try and reach the SGC and ask for help. To fight back. To get rid of the invaders, but Jonas had little hope for his people now. A hatchet like theirs could be buried, but trust after rebuilding was destroyed far too easily. And there wouldn’t be a second chance for them. He was sure of that. And he’d put so much effort into building this new government. Into creating peace. And here he was. Stranded back on Earth, with no hope this time. Nothing to bargain with.
Carter met her gaze and Alex shrugged helplessly.
The ambush ended as quickly as it had started. One of the men who’d attacked them was still breathing. His chest heaving, his eyes staring up into the sky, he ignored them. He bore the same tattoo their first prisoner had. They had to get away from here, to a more secure location. They had to get their wounded and dead through the Gate. But as soon as they stepped through the Gate, there wouldn’t be any turning around, he was almost sure. If they were abandoning Pegasus, then that meant abandoning their people as well.
“Sir?” Murdoch asked and of course he was right. Fisherman was wounded. He couldn’t stand. He needed Beckett and fast.
“Let’s grab these two and get away from here,” he said. He’d just have to take a chance. But not just yet. They couldn’t take a prisoner back to Atlantis, not when the place was bein evacuated, or abandoned, or whatever the hell was happening back there. Evan stepped over to the wounded enemy and looked down at him. The man wouldn’t tell them how many were out there, but it was clear they were gone only to get backup. “Where are our people,” he asked curtly. “The scientists you took.”
The man laughed briefly, a trace of blood the width of a hair trickling out of the corner of his mouth. Dark against pale skin.
“Where are they?” Murdoch’s voice was controlled, firm. Maybe too much so.
Evan stared down on the man, into those dark green eyes full of contempt. He had a feeling their guys were lost to them. The intel about this place and that people in their uniforms had been spotted here was only a few hours old, but with instantaneous travel between planets, that trail might already be stone cold. He knew that. But he didn’t want to accept it.
He knelt down, so he was closer to the man’s face. Doctor Pryce, he remembered, was incredible at chess. Why that fact just hit him, he didn’t know, but he refused to even think that it was because in moments like these you remembered the stupidest things about a person. Doctor Pryce had a dog back home. He didn’t know anything else about the team, but those facts made him grab the man by the collar and pull him up a bit. The man scoffed, more blood spluttering from his mouth. They weren’t going to lose any more people.
“If you’re Wraith Worshippers,” he began quietly, softly shaking the man, so he groaned in pain, “why try and sell them as slaves, when you could feed them to your masters instead?”
“We need to make a living every once in a while.” The man gasped, his eyes squeezed shut. Evan was hurting him, but Evan didn’t care.
“I’m asking you again,” he said. “Where are they now? Tell me, and I’ll let you go, maybe even leave you a medical kit. Some pain killers? How does that sound?”
The coffee was bitter. It had probably been standing on that heating plate for hours, but she didn’t care much. It would do the job and that’s what counted. The debriefing had been over quickly enough and now she was waiting for her turn to speak with Jonas. Sam was already in there, Alex had talked to two of the other refugees. According to Doctor Lam, there was no trace of the Priors’ Plague in their systems, and they’d all been given a clean bill of health. Apart from that, their stories matched. There really should be no reason to keep them confined like this any longer.
Their society had been taken over by the Ori, after about forty percent of the population had been killed by the virus. After months of fighting in the underground, they’d managed to gather a small task force, meaning to storm the bunker, clear a path and get as many people offworld as possible. But the Gate had been better protected that anyone could’ve anticipated and just the ten of them had made it off Langara. Now the Gate was inaccessible. They were stranded here. All of them strong and able-bodied and willing to fight. Jonas had been there before. But then his world hadn't been occupied by an enemy this powerful and this capable of making people follow them unwaveringly.
But she wasn’t just waiting for a chance to talk to Jonas again. There was also that significant piece of news which had reached Earth about three hours previously. Somewhere, in the void spanning between the Pegasus and the Milky Way Galaxies, the Daedalus had actually, inexplicably, run into a ship full of Ancients, travelling from Lantea to Earth at lightspeed. Daniel had been positively psyched by the news, but it’d been Woolsey and O'Neill who'd travelled to Atlantis to talk to them via the newly-tested Gate Bridge. And the talk had been short to say the least. The Ancients wanted their city back and that meant the Tau'ri had to leave. Not just to leave the city, but the whole galaxy.
Like what they'd accomplished there was nothing.
Like it had been nothing but child's play and now that the adults were back, the children had to return to their own room and leave the run of the house to the parents.
But at least, she thought, Evan would be coming back. That was something. They’d be back together sooner than either of them would’ve thought possible. Even if he was bound to be disappointed at having to leave. She felt the same. There was still so much to do in Pegasus. Well, not that there wasn’t a lot to do here…
“Alex?” Carter knocked on her office door and came in. They’d started using first names at Alex’s small birthday party, but she hadn’t managed to call Colonel Carter by her first name yet. Not in her mind anyway.
“Yeah.” Alex rubbed her eyes and sat up straight. ”What’d he say?”
“He says he needs some rest and I can’t exactly blame him. We’ve been interrogating him and his people for hours.”
Alex nodded thoughtfully and got to her feet. Well, she might as well go home and tell Ellen and Roger that Evan was coming back. They might want to stay a few extra days, then. “Thanks for letting me know. Is there anything I can do?”
With a shrug, Carter leaned in the doorframe. “Not really. He seems changed, somehow.”
Alex grunted. “I know… still the same guy, but with less enthusiasm. He’s been through hell.”
“Yes, he has.”
“Do you think they’ll let them stay?”
“Why not? If he wants to? He’s earned our trust, that’s for sure. He deserves it.”
Alex had to agree. She, too, owed Jonas. Not just as an inhabitant of Earth, but also as a friend. Jonas had come back from Langara to help in the search for Nora. He’d been wounded because of it. And she’d help him now. If she could. If he let her.
“Well,” she murmured, closing her laptop and the message she’d been meaning to send to Evan. Should she just print it out now and give it to him? “I’m gonna go home then.”
“You do that. Say hi to your sister-in-law and her husband, will you?”
Carter left then, leaving Alex to tidy up a bit before going home. Ellen and Roger would probably still be up, when Alex got back. She had to admit, it was nice to know that someone was waiting for her, even though she did not look forward to having to share Evan straight away. But he’d been missing his sister and his nephews. She knew that. And Simon and Paul barely knew their uncle. It was high time he spent some time with them.
She locked up, changed into her civilian clothes and headed towards the elevator, checked herself out and just as she’d reached her car, her phone rang. Probably her mom, asking her for the umpteenth time when she’d be coming to visit.
Alex picked up without looking at the caller-ID. Car keys in hand, she stood in the parking lot and pressed the phone to her ear. “Hey, Mum, sorry, can’t talk right now. I-“
She almost dropped her phone. It wasn’t her mum. That voice was most definitely male and she didn’t recognize it. It sounded tired and scared. “Who is this?” she asked, forcing her own voice to remain steady and calm. Not an easy task. “Hello?”
“Alex,” a short sniffing sound. “Alex, it’s Javier.”
Oops, another cliffhanger! Sorry! What do you think he could want? :-P